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Front Cover

The New Galata Bridge,

Sbah & Joaillier, 25 May 1912,
mer M. Ko Collection.

From its birth in 1839, photography has participated in modernity as

much as it has symbolized it. Its capacity to record and display, and
its claim to accuracy and truth intricately linked the new technology
to the dynamism of the modern world. The Ottoman Empire embraced
photography with great enthusiasm. The impact and meaning of
photography were further reinforced by the thrust of modernization and
Westernization of the Tanzimat movement. By the turn of the century,
photography in the Ottoman lands had become a standard feature of
everyday life, public media, and the state apparatus.

The visual world we live in today was born some 150 years ago. Camera
Ottomana is both a homage to, and a critical assessment of, the local
dimension of one of the most potent and transformative technological
inventions of the recent past.

Photography and Modernity

in the Ottoman Empire
Photography and Modernity
in the Ottoman Empire

This exhibition explores some of the most striking aspects of the close
connection between photography and modernity in the specificity of the
Ottoman Empire. Much of the material concerns the display of modernity
through photography, as was so often the case in the photographs
and albums commissioned by the sultans to showcase the empire for
Western audiences. Nevertheless, modernity was often embedded in the
photographic act, transforming it into a common and mundane practice.
Be it in the form of images disseminated through the illustrated press,
postcards sent out to family members or anonymous collectors, portraits
presented to friends and acquaintances, or pictures taken of employees
and convicts, photography had started to invade practically every sphere
of public and private life.

75 TL

Edited by
Zeynep elik
Edhem Eldem

Texts by
Zeynep elik, Edhem Eldem, Bahattin ztuncay,
Frances Terpak & Peter Louis Bonfitto

Photography and Modernity

in the Ottoman Empire

Edited by
Zeynep elik
Edhem Eldem


Copyright 2015 by Ko University Publications, Istanbul. All

rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or
transmitted, in whole or in part, including any illustrations still in
copyright (beyond that copying permitted by Sections 107 and 108
of the U.S. Copyright Law and except by reviewers for the public
press), in any form without written permission from the publishers
and the relevant copyright holders.

This book has been published on the occasion of the exhibition

Camera Ottomana: Photography and Modernity in the Ottoman
Empire, 1840-1914, at Ko University Research Center for
Anatolian Civilizations, Istanbul, April 21-August 19, 2015.
A Turkish edition appears under the title Camera Ottomana:
Osmanl mparatorluunda Fotoraf ve Modernite, 1840-1914.

Project Manager
Buket Cokuner

Ko University Press, 2015 - Certificate No 18318

1st Edition: Istanbul, April 2015

Project Coordinators
Ebru Esra Satc, eyda etin

Ko University Research Center for Anatolian Civilizations (RCAC)

stiklal Caddesi No.181 Merkez Han 34433 Beyolu stanbul

Project Editor
Betl Kadolu
Hande Eagle (The Origins and Development of
Photography in Istanbul)
Karen Zahorchak (Album)
Photographs By
Murat Akar, Hadiye Cangke
Book Design
Il nal, Oya iti - PATTU,
Printed in Turkey by
Ofset Yapmevi - Certificate No 12326
aglayan Mahallesi Sair Sokak No.4 Kgthane/Istanbul
T. + 90 212 295 8601

On the cover
Inauguration of the New Galata Bridge, Sbah & Joaillier,
25 May 1912, mer M. Ko Collection.

Ko niversitesi Yaynlar
stiklal Caddesi No.181 Merkez Han 34433 Beyolu stanbul
T. + 90 212 393 6070
Ko University Suna Kra Library Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Camera Ottomana : photography and modernity in the Ottoman
Empire, 1840-1914, at Ko University Research Center for Anatolian
Civilizations, Istanbul, April 21-August 19, 2015 / Edited By Zeynep
elik, Edhem Eldem; translation Hande Eagle; photographs by Murat
Akar, Hadiye Cangke.
256 pages ; 17x24cm.
Typeface : Arnhem Pro, ITC Officina Pro
Paper : Munken Lynx 300 g/m2, Munken Lynx 100 g/m2
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-605-5250-46-1
1. Turkey--History--Ottoman Empire, 1288-1918--Pictorial works.
2. Photography-Turkey--History--19th century. 3. Turkey--Civilization--Pictorial
works. I. elik, Zeynep. II. Eldem, Edhem. III. Eagle, Hande. IV. Akar,
Murat. V. Cangke, Hadiye.
DR417.2.C36 2015


Welders, workers, and engineers posing

at the new Galata Bridge assembly site on
the Golden Horn. Sbah & Joaillier,
21 March 1911. MKC.


Note on Spelling, Transliteration, and Dates






Frances Terpak & Peter Bonfitto

Transferring Antiquity to Ink - Ruins from the Americas
to Asia Minor and the Development of Photolithography


Bahattin ztuncay
The Origins and Development of Photography in Istanbul


Edhem Eldem
Powerful Images - The Dissemination and Impact
of Photography in the Ottoman Empire, 18701914


Zeynep elik
Photographing Mundane Modernity


Political Change
Abdlhamid as Paterfamilias
Ottoman Exoticism
Bookish Portraits
Amateur Photographers
Bad Boys
Formal Order
Photography at the Service of Art
Foreign Dignitaries in the Empire
A Taste for Folklore
Appropriating Antiquities
Orientalist Reality
Serving Science and Scholarship
Personalized Photo Cards
Abidin the Snitch
Private Albums, Public Spaces
Forbidden Kitsch
Unity in Diversity











Note on Spelling, Transliteration, and Dates


As there is no ideal solution to the recurring problem caused by the

linguistic complexity of Ottoman culture, we have chosen to limit
ourselves to a few principles and rules of thumb that are likely to
provide a certain degree of consistency. For those words which have
entered the English language, such as pasha or agha, we have
used the standard English spelling. The same principle was applied
to place names, such as Cairo, Beirut, or Izmir without a dot on the
I. In the case of some cities, such as Constantinople/Istanbul or
Salonica/Thessaloniki, the choice of one toponym over the other may
have been dictated by the historical context.

Camera Ottomana is made possible by the contribution of many

individuals. We are indebted to Buket Cokuner, Manager of RCAC, for
her gracious and rigorous leadership and to the meticulous, diligent,
and extremely hard-working duo at the RCAC, eyda etin and Ebru
Esra Satc for their invaluable research help. We also benefited
from Ceyda Yksel's input during this process. Betl Kadolu ably
coordinated the work and corrected our oversights and errors. Ayen
Gr and Hande Eagle expertly translated the texts from English and
Turkish, respectively, along the way continuing the editorial mission.
The elegant design belongs to the superbly talented Il nal, Cem
Kozar and Oya iti of PATTU. Together with the authors and curators,
this remarkable crew formed a tight team. We thank every one of
them for making the production process smooth and fun.

Words and expressions in Ottoman Turkish have been transliterated

using the modern Turkish alphabet without the detailed diacritics
used in philological works; nevertheless, we remained as close as
possible to the Ottoman spelling, especially with respect to words and
names ending in "b" and "d."
The Ottoman dating system is based on the Hegira, corresponding to
622 CE. However, two different calendars were used, lunar and solar,
sometimes simultaneously. As we have systematically converted
these dates to the Western (Gregorian) calendar, some documents
or publications are referenced with up to three different dates. Risks
of confusion can be reduced by remembering that a difference of
approximately 600 years clearly distinguishes Christian and Muslim
years, and that the Muslim lunar calendar is characterized by Arabic
month names, while the solar months are named like in the West. E.g.
9 aban 1293 = 18 August 1292 = 30 August 1876.

We acknowledge with gratitude several institutions, which allowed

us to use their collections and documentation: Istanbul University
Central Library, the Prime Ministry Ottoman State Archives, SALT
Research, the Royal Collection and the Royal Archives. We would also
like to thank Fostin Cotchen, Cengiz Kahraman and Sinan Kuneralp
for their precious support in providing us with crucially important
The majority of the documents come from mer M. Kos legendary
collection, which he has generously accepted to share with us. Our
special thanks go to him for making the book and the exhibition that
accompanied it possible.
We are grateful to Frances Terpak and Peter Bonfitto for working with
us and sharing their rich expertise in this challenging field. Bahattin
ztuncays contribution was on many levels: as an author, as a cocurator, but also as the deep repository of knowledge on Ottoman
photography. He has our profound appreciation and wholehearted
thanks. Finally, we would like to thank our spouses, Sedef Eldem
and Perry Winston, who, as always, put a lot of quiet work into our
Zeynep elik, Edhem Eldem




The Dissemination and Impact
of Photography in the
Ottoman Empire, 18701914

The other day I had to go to Taksim on some business. As I

came across two or three illustrated boards hanging against
the wall of a building on Pera Avenue and as I like to observe
such images, I stopped for a moment and started examining
One of these was a scene from the interior of the holy
mosque of Hagia Sophia. I very much enjoyed viewing it.
Unfortunately, however, I lost all my initial pleasure when I
saw the other. This panel consisted of smaller frames, like
in an album. It held a multitude of portraits, from Mevlevi
sheiks down to ice cream and pudding vendors. Let us accept
these, but what should we say of the images of ladies wearing
their veils and cloaks? And if we are to accept these, too, what
about Muslim ladies without their cloaks and veils? . . .
I would be lying if I said that this situation did not hurt my
piety as a Muslim and my patriotism as an Ottoman. As I was
standing there, not knowing what to say or do, an officer, who
by the looks of it seemed freshly out of the Military Academy,
came by and shared my astonishment. Seeing that we were of
the same mind, I said:
My friend, one cannot tell women not to have their picture
taken, but if they have to, would it not be better if, once a
sufficient number of copies were made from the glass plate
they call a clich, they had it erased? As I said this, another
man with the looks of a clerk overheard my words to the
officer, and jumped into the conversation:
My dear, what you propose used to be done ten years ago,
and in those days women would have their pictures taken
by female photographers. The world has changed today. The
ladies walk into a photographers studio and throw off their
cloak to have their picture taken. What use would it be to have
the glass plates erased or broken?

Edhem Eldem

Let me first of all warn you that I do not claim that our women
should maintain their present way of covering themselves.
However, considering that our present rules of conduct
require that they dress in a certain way and that it is deemed
inappropriate for our women to show themselves to men, as
long as this remains so, I find it pure shamelessness that our
ladies should go to Pera and have their pictures taken among
Greek and Polish philanderers, and then have these pictures
displayed on street corners!


Powerful Images - The Dissemination and Impact

of Photography in the Ottoman Empire, 18701914



This is what I say, but as to the sorrow caused by this, I cannot

just say, May God discipline them! I submit this situation
to the attention of those who have the piety of a Muslim and
the patriotism of an Ottoman, and suggest that a solution be
found to put a stop to this evil as a matter of national honor.1
It was in these terms that in 1871 the owner and editor of the daily Basiret, Basireti Ali
Efendi, recounted his indignation at the sight of what must have been the window of a
photographers studio on Pera Avenue in the European district of Istanbul. His description
of the shameless display of photographs of Muslim women indicates what photographers
advertising looked like at this early date. It also shows how the latest technological changes
had led to a proliferation of the photographic image, rendered much more accessible thanks
to the collodion process and albumen printing.
More importantly, his description formed an accurate inventory of the three major
photographic genres of the time: portraits, types, and landscapes or monuments. He
considered this last the least problematic, expressing admiration for the large image of the
interior of Hagia Sophia. He had less sympathy for what was evidently a series of Oriental
types, popular with foreign visitors who wanted to take home the photograph of a shoeshine
or a whirling dervish. Both these genres had origins in a long tradition of paintings, drawings,
and prints depicting views, types, and costumes of the Levant. By the 1870s they constituted
a major source of revenue for photograph studios, especially before the massive irruption
of the postcard some two decades later (1, 2). Yet it was with one of the most basic genres,
the portrait, that Ali Efendi had a serious problem. The thought of all these Muslim women
posing in front of the camera and then being displayed in a shop window was more than he
could bear.
Basireti Ali Efendi touched upon a tension between the private nature of the photographic
portrait and its public display. Yet his focus was exclusively on womenmore precisely,
on Muslim women; his concern for privacy was therefore limited to the Islamic concept of
mahrem (intimacy or privacy), which stood between an honest Muslim woman and the gaze of
unauthorized men. The patronizing use of possessive formulae such as our women or our
ladies further enhanced this patriarchal vision of segregation. To Ali Efendi, that window
display was in open defiance of the moral order imposed by Islamic custom and tradition.
Yet a closer look at his recriminations reveals a number of inconsistencies and weaknesses.
To begin with, the audience of the photographers decorative arrangement seems not to have
been Greek and Polish Casanovas, but three Muslims, including himself.
More importantly, Ali Efendi may have assessed the photographs on display inaccurately. At
the time, portraits of Ottoman Muslim women were a rarity, especially authentic portraits, as
opposed to staged photographs.2 Indeed, if a woman was portrayed without the characteristic
veil and garments of a Muslim lady, what allowed him to identify her as such?
The photographs he assumed to be portraits of Muslim women were in fact part of the
ethnographic series he had found more tolerable. Just as nineteenth-century tourists could
take home souvenir photographs of street peddlers or mendicant dervishes, they were also

1 Mevlevi dervishes, photograph by Pascal

Sbah, ca. 1870. MKC.


Powerful Images - The Dissemination and Impact

of Photography in the Ottoman Empire, 18701914



2 Mahallebi vendor, photograph by

Pascal Sbah, ca. 1870. Fostin Cotchen
Collection, New York.
3 Turkish lady, photograph by Pascal
Sbah, ca. 1870. MKC.

invited to peer into the intimate life of Ottoman subjects through domestic scenesespecially
portraits of women. Combining gender with ethnography, these portraits often followed
a religious or ethnic taxonomy: Christians, Jews, Gypsies, Arabs, and, most mysterious of
all, Muslims. The stock term for these was dame turque, Turkish lady, a phrase that came to
describe a generic image of a woman in Oriental garb, generally with the lower half of her
face barely hidden by a light gauze, reclining on a plush sofa with a water pipe nearby. Pascal
Sbah (whose studio in Pera was most likely the one that attracted Ali Efendis attentive gaze)
specialized in such compositions, which completed his rich inventory of Oriental scenes.3 In
all likelihood, what Ali Efendi saw were staged studio photographs where paid actresses
local non-Muslimsimpersonated veiled women and harem inmates for the enjoyment of
unsuspecting foreigners (3).4
Had Ali Efendi naively fallen into the same Orientalist trap as the average European tourist?
Perhaps he was making a claim unlikely to be checked by his readers to warn against the
possible consequences of recent developments in photography. Moreover, to a good Muslim
the real identities of the ladies in the photographs may have been less important than who
they appeared to be. Photographs of allegedly Muslim women were being printed in growing
numbers and displayed and sold freely in shops in the European neighborhood of the city;
this was disturbing enough to warrant an attempt to put a stop to the perceived abuse.
Indeed, mightnt these fantasies be turned into reality if honest Muslim women were thereby
encouraged to engage in such outrageous behavior? For those few who may have thought
progress and modernity heralded a relaxation of moral codes, Ali Efendis editorial was a
timely warning.

Archival documentation suggests that the major concern was about the circulation of images
purporting to represent Muslim women in the intimacy of the harem rather than about
actual Muslim women frequenting the studios of the city. As postcards proliferated, attempts
to ban such practices increased over time, fueled by the almost obsessive desire of Sultan
Abdlhamid II (r. 18761909) to control and censor all printed material. More often than not,
these prohibitions also covered an Ottoman taboo against images considered sacrilegious,
generally due to the presence of sacred buildings or Islamic references. These restrictions had
hardly any impact, as most of the material circulated through foreign post offices over which
the Ottoman authorities had little jurisdiction.5
This was not just a matter of morality in a time of change. Underlying the anxiety was the
phenomenal development and propagation of the photographic image; the spread of this
new medium raised other concerns too. The issue was primarily quantitative rather than
qualitative: the images that had been confined to a much more limited use were increasingly
available and accessible. After all, there was no real novelty in the desire to feed the Western
publics appetite for images of the Orient ranging from exotic to erotic; what was new was
the extraordinary way in which these images could now circulate, thanks to the new medium
of photography and its derivatives, from the illustrated press to the ubiquitous postcard.
It would be a mistake, however, to view this as a one-sided phenomenon dominated and
eventually manipulated by the West, with the Ottomans as the object of the photographic
gaze, only occasionally trying to limit, as Ali Efendi wished to do, its nefarious impact.
The situation was much more ambiguous; for example, Ali Efendis enthusiasm for the
photograph of the interior of Hagia Sophia suggests that he had no objection to that image


Powerful Images - The Dissemination and Impact

of Photography in the Ottoman Empire, 18701914



being disseminated abroad and around the Ottoman Empire. Yet even with respect to the
touchy issue of representing women, the Ottoman government of the time had a more lenient
attitude than Basirets editorialist. In fact, it embraced and appropriated the new technique to
promote the image of the empire in the international arena.
The best example of this new trend is Costumes populaires de la Turquie, an album of
photographic plates with commentary describing the great variety of regional costume found
throughout the Ottoman domains. The publication was prepared for the 1873 Universal
Exposition in Vienna, and has been studied in depth. 6 It was the perfect embodiment of a
state-sponsored initiative to use this new medium in order to provide Western audiences with
a controlled discourse about Oriental customs and costume.7
In a sense, this was an official version of the photographers shop window, but it was a tamed
one, from which Orientalist fantasy and staging had been removed in order to make way
for a stern ethnographic gaze. Muslim women were there, some even unveiled; they may
still have been non-Muslim actresses, but the suggestive and lascivious poses of imaginary
harem inmates had been replaced by the composed attitude of men and women standing in
front of the bland, endlessly repeated wood paneling of an empty and austere room. There is
probably no better example of this shift than the striking contrast between two photographs
by Pascal Sbah. One is a Sbah studio composition, the other a plate in Costumes populaires.
Not only were the two images taken by the same photographer, but they show the same three
models posing with very similar, if not identical, garments. The difference is all in the pose
and attitude (4, 5).
Costumes populaires was published under Abdlaziz, while the vast majority of the
censorship directed against certain types of images dates to the reign of his successor,
Abdlhamid II. Yet Abdlhamid was not an iconoclast. On the contrary, he was obsessively
engaged in a photographic census of his domains and was fully aware of the use that could
be made of such material to promote a certain image of the empire. Particularly important in
this respect were two enormous and almost identical series of some fifty albums containing
about 1,800 photographs; one set was presented to the Library of Congress in 1893, the other
to the British Museum in 1894. Also significant was a documentary core of about 500 albums
with over 33,000 photographs, once preserved at Yldz Palace and now at the Istanbul
University Central Library.8
The American Congressman Samuel Sullivan Cox may have encouraged Abdlhamid in this
direction by presenting him with the Tenth US Census, but the Sultans photomania seems to
have started well before he received Coxs gift.9 As Ahmed Hamdi Pasha (18261885), governor
of Syria, wrote to the Grand Vizier on 15 February 1884:
As it is clear that His Majesty our Lord Benefactor, well
aware of all truths, possesses perfect knowledge of every
circumstance in His Well-Protected Imperial Domains, it
would be advantageous and useful and would merit His
august approbation that photographic images be made of
a number of antiquities which are found in the province of

Syria and which great numbers of people from Europe are

keen to observe and examine by choosing to go through
much discomfort in their travels, and that they be kept in the
splendid palace of His Majesty the Caliph as an index of His
Imperial Majestys productive knowledge; thus one hundred
photographic plates of Baalbek, of Mount Hauran, of Jerash,
of Palmyra, of antiquities and of some famed buildings of
the Land of Palestine, and of certain towns well-known to the
Europeans, such as Jerusalem and Nazareth, and of towns on
the shores of Syria have been placed in a case and entrusted
to Selim, a sergeant of the Beirut gendarmerie, together with a
list of their numbers and names.10
The Pashas repeated mention of the Sultans knowledge, and his reference to an index (fihrist)
show that the idea of collecting images as a comprehensive survey of the landsa sort of
panopticon of the empirewas well-established and understood by the palace administration.
This document also reveals a dominant concern for places and objects of interest to Western
visitors. The Western gaze acted as a guide for the creation of image collections. However, this
was not devoid of ambiguity and contradictions. On the one hand, Western curiosity was most
aroused by what were perceived as Orientalist or exotic elements in the Ottoman Empire, from
antiquities to costume to architecture. But from an Ottoman perspective, what mattered most
was to show to Western detractors that the empire was modernizing rapidly and inexorably.
No wonder, then, that the albums sent to Washington and London were a strange mix of
images bonnes pour lOccidentthe views appreciated by touristsand representations of
progressschools and students, hospitals and patients, barracks and troops. Upon receiving
the albums in London, the Times dutifully reported that these gifts show the great progress
which has been made of late years in Turkey under his Majestys auspices.11 In many ways,
Abdlhamids albums were in line with the Ottoman desire to impress Western audiences
with whatever they were willing to accept as a positive image of the empire. Much had
already been achieved through the pageantry of the universal expositions, yet those efforts
had largely been dominated by norms and themes chosen and determined by the West.12
The Vienna Universal Exposition of 1873 indicated a gradual change in this tendency, as
the Ottomans took more active control, and produced a number of publications of a more
scientific nature.13 Abdlhamids gift albums did form a sort of sequel to earlier Ottoman
exhibits and publications at the worlds fairs, with the additional advantage of including views
of modernized Ottoman infrastructure that could hardly have been displayed abroad. The
decision to resort to the new format of the photograph album may have been spurred by a
long period of about two decades following the Vienna fair, during which the empire failed to
participate in any such event.14 The 1893 Worlds Columbian Exposition in Chicago may have
been a catalyst for the constitution of the photograph series, as a documentary parallel to the
Ottoman exhibitions themselves.
Yet there was a major difference between international exhibitions and publications, on
the one hand, and a set of fifty albums sent to foreign libraries, on the other. While the
expositions and accompanying publications could count on a massive number of visitors



Powerful Images - The Dissemination and Impact

of Photography in the Ottoman Empire, 18701914


4, 5 Arabs from the vicinity of Mecca,

Pascal Sbah, ca. 1872. Fostin Cotchen
Collection, New York; Kabyle man and
woman from Harb, near Medina and
woman from Jiyaddala, near Mecca,
Hamdy and de Launay, Costumes
populaires, part 3, pl. XL. Both images are
by Pascal Sbah and use the same models
and almost identical garments, but they
are radically different in their treatment of
the subject.

and readers, the albums failed to reach a significant audience. Between their presentation
in 18931894 and their rediscovery in the early 1980s, they were completely forgotten, never
serving the purpose they had apparently been designed for.15 Such utter failure needs to be
taken into account when studying these collections; and the same is probably true of the
33,000 photographs amassed at Yldz Palace around the same time. Although the image of a
secluded ruler viewing his empire through the proxy of the photographers lens has appealed
to scholars working on Abdlhamid, it is doubtful that he made use of this collection on
a regular or systematic basis.16 In all likelihood, the project was started with enthusiasm
and curiosity and then gradually sank into a routine that produced a vast accumulation of
documentation, exceeding any manageable size. The Washington and London album series


Powerful Images - The Dissemination and Impact

of Photography in the Ottoman Empire, 18701914



were a mere sample of this hodgepodge, albeit somewhat more structured and ordered
and more focused in scope. Those thirty thousand images include pages and pages of
repetitive shots of students posing before a calligraphic panel reading Long live the Sultan
(Padiahm ok yaa); facade after facade of similar looking schools, barracks, and hospitals;
and endless displays of ammunition and firearms. To browse through these would have been
a monotonous chore, which the occasional views of the Bosphorus, of mosques, or of the
Sultans horses and yachts would have barely enlivened.

Was this a miscalculation on Abdlhamids part, or did the British and American public
simply lack interest in the subject? The projects failure was mostly due to the fact that it was
not really planned thoroughly. Abdlhamid had an ambivalent view of photographs. Eager to
use them as a showcase of progress and stability, he was also wary of seeing them get out of
hand through uncontrolled distribution. This may have led him to believe rather naively that
a carefully staged presentation of handpicked images would eventually reach its audience
much as he had himself been fascinated by images of firearms and Native Americans.17
Indeed, some images were not to be circulated at all, starting with his own portrait. Since
the reigns of Selim III and especially Mahmud II, Ottoman sultans had enjoyed having their
portrait made and displayed in various ways and places as a sign of majesty and authority.
Abdlhamid II put an end to that tradition by banning, or at least restricting, the use of
his own likeness in any format.18 The paradox of a sovereign obsessed with collecting
photographs of his subjects and lands but unwilling to let his own portrait be taken is a
trademark of Abdlhamid. Indeed, when the Young Turk Revolution of July 1908 put an end to
his autocratic regime and forced him into the role of a constitutional monarch, his first public
appearance was published in the weekly LIllustrationas a photograph of the man who had
never been photographed before. 19 This was considered so exceptional that the magazines
following issue carried the aging Sultans photograph on its front cover (6).20
Of course, this was not strictly true; there were photographs of him, but they seem all to date
from before his accession to the throne and they were only very rarely published or displayed.
One of the consequences of this policy was the systematic recycling of the sovereigns older
photographs. Among these, two seem to have been particularly useful. One is an austere pose
taken by Abdullah Frres in 1869, which LIllustration used on its cover the week following
Abdlhamids accession to the throne in 1876. The other, even older, had been taken in
London in 1867, during Abdlazizs European tour, by the famed photographers William and
Daniel Downey. The advantage of this portrait was that the twenty-five-year-old prince did not
look quite young, and that he was wearing his full regalia. Since as Sultan he was pretty much
invisible, it was easy to make use of these timeless images, even thirty years after they were
taken, as on the colorful cover of the French Petit journal in 1897 (7, 8, 9, 10).21
Ironically, Abdlhamids iconographic parsimony only encouraged the press to find creative
ways of making up for the dearth of images. If the Petit journal in 1897 simply used an outdated
portrait, erasing thirty years from the rulers age, LIllustrationwas more inventive: the
following year it published a cover drawing based on the old photograph, adding legs to the
bust to create an image of Abdlhamid taking the German emperor Wilhelm II by the arm, set

6 Abdlhamid, LIllustration, no. 3417, 22

August 1908. EE.


Powerful Images - The Dissemination and Impact

of Photography in the Ottoman Empire, 18701914



7 Prince Abdlhamid, photograph by

Abdullah Frres, 1869. MKC.
8 The same portrait of Abdlhamid used
on the cover of LIllustration, no. 1750, 9
September 1876. EE. The position of the
arm seems to have been changed in order
to avoid the monotonous pose of hanging
arms in the original image.
9 Prince Abdlhamid, photograph by W. &
D. Downey, London, 1867. MKC.
10 The same portrait used on the cover
of Le Petit journal, no. 327, 21 February
1897. EE.
11 A Pair of Friends, Abdlhamid and
Wilhelm II, cover of LIllustration, no.
2904, 22 October 1898. EE.
12 End of a Reign, Abdlhamids fall on
27 April 1909, cover of LIllustration, no.
3454, 8 May 1909. EE.

over the sarcastic caption, A Pair of Friendsa reference

to the rapprochement between Germany and the Ottoman
Empire (11).22 There was certainly some ironyeven poetic
justicein the fact that Abdlhamid, by restricting the use
of his image, inadvertently unleashed the power of a much
more versatile and creative medium. When he finally fell
from power in 1909, the cover of LIllustration depicted the
dethroned autocrat in a drawing stooped and gaunt, with the
caption End of a Reign. The sketch is a free interpretation of
the description provided by a member of the committee sent
to depose him, which is printed alongside: He was dressed
in civilian garb, with a carelessness that betrayed his haste
and agitation. His hands trembled a bit; his shoulders, more
hunched than usually, gave him a humble air . . . (12).23
Although he never stated his reasons for prohibiting use
of his photograph, Abdlhamid II probably considered his
portrait to be a private matter and was reluctant to share
it with the public. In doing so he was renouncing a key
instrument of the public image and prestige of a ruler: the
imperial portrait.24 But if Abdlhamid withdrew his likeness
from public space, he did not altogether abandon the
opportunity to mark the media with his presence, albeit in
more abstract forms. He made extensive use of the turathe


Powerful Images - The Dissemination and Impact

of Photography in the Ottoman Empire, 18701914



Sultans cipherand around 1883 he invented and standardized an Ottoman coat of arms.
These easily made up the iconographic deficit. Both the tura and the coat of arms grew into
a ubiquitous symbol of Hamidian power in a wide variety of media, amply demonstrating the
sultans ability to conquer visual space.25

below, a detailed caption provides a multilayered context to this ghastly image: What goes
on 40 hours from Paris. At the photographers: Turkish gendarmes and their trophies
Reproduction of one of the numerous photographs displayed in bookshops in Salonica and

Conquestand if conquest was not possible, controlof visual space was of crucial
importance to Abdlhamid. His obsession with his own portrait constituted just one aspect of
this issue; another was his anxiety to prevent the propagation of sacrilegious images through
postcards and books. At the center of this struggle was the press, particularly the illustrated
press, which combined the formidable power of the word and the image. In discussions of
his albums, Abdlhamid is credited with having repeatedly claimed that images were much
more powerful than words and that they all conveyed messages.26 The source for this quote is
an indirect one: his first secretary, Tahsin Pasha, mentions it in his Yldz memoirs, published
in the 1930s. There is no reason to doubt its authenticity; the popular saying that an image
is worth a thousand words had particular currency in the era when photography became a
popular mass medium. But this anecdote should be reframed in its proper context, as given
by Tahsin Pasha:

The image accompanied a long article by Albert Malet, a French historian known for his
successful school textbooks, on a major uprising throughout Macedonia (13). Malet referred
to the cover image only in passing, while describing the violence unleashed by revolutionaries
and Ottoman troops in the area: In Monastir, one could buy photographs depicting Turkish
gendarmes, wearing almost clean uniforms borrowed from God knows where for the
occasion, displaying themselves triumphantly around a table laden with horribly mutilated
heads.29 The message was clear and meant to be shocking. At a distance of only forty hours
from civilization, barbarism had reached such a degree of banality that it had become a
curiosity item, on display in shops.

The Sultan was very interested in [the illustrated press]. He

always followed and examined those magazines which he
received by subscription, and sometimes had the interpreters
translate their contents. I heard him so many times repeat
these same words: Every picture is an idea. An image
inspires political and emotional meanings which cannot be
expressed by a text of a hundred pages. That is why I profit
more from their pictures than from their written contents.27
These words follow a passage in which the Pasha describes the Sultans very modest working
quarters at Yldz, consisting of a study with a table covered with the weekly and monthly
illustrated magazines published in the major cities of Europe. These were the images that
Abdlhamid considered more powerful than the articles that accompanied them. If illustrated
magazines like LIllustration and Le Petit journal were free to stage the Sultan with doctored
illustrations, that was just the tip of the iceberg. These kinds of images could become much
more disturbing by touching upon highly sensitive issues. Some photographs, engravings,
and commentary in the illustrated press could convey extremely negative impressions of the
empire, a fact that Abdlhamid perceived as a threat to the very foundations of the regime he
was trying to maintain throughout his dominions.
Perhaps one of the best illustrations of how threatening the illustrated press could become
is the sudden and massive irruption of images of severed heads in Western illustrated
newspapers and journals in 1903. The most striking example was the cover of the 28 February
1903 issue of LIllustration, the flagship of the French illustrated press and the best-known
magazine throughout the empire. It featured a large engraving, evidently taken from a
photograph, depicting a group of six men in fezzes and some kind of uniform. They stand,
rifles raised, confronting the camera. The focal point of the image is a pedestal on which are
gorily displayed three severed heads. The upper title announces The Events in Macedonia;

Understandably, the publication of this image came as a shock to the Ottoman

administration.30 On 10 March 1903, Abdlhamids first secretary, Tahsin Pasha, wrote to the
Inspectorate of the Provinces of Rumelia, asking for an investigation into the matter:
We have sent to Your Excellency an issue of the newspaper
Illustration printed and published in Paris and containing
a picture titled the Events in Macedonia. Although we are
informed that the said picture is a fabrication and a setup,
based on the information submitted that some photographs
of this kind had previously been on sale in bookstores of
Salonica and Monastir, if such pictures are indeed being sold
in bookshops around there, it is ordered and commanded by
august decree of His Majesty the Caliph that this should be
prevented and that the truth about the matter be exposed and
The phenomenon was not limited to LIllustration. Just a day earlier, a second-rank illustrated
magazine, La Vie illustre, had published the same image on its cover, but using the original
photograph. La Vie illustrehad topped LIllustration by providing two other gory pictures
in the same style (14, 15). These are titled and captioned much more aggressively, with a
personalized accusation against Abdlhamid: Officers, noncommissioned officers, soldiers,
and gendarmes of H. M. Abdul-Hamid having their photograph taken with the heads of their
tortured victims and The Turkish Atrocities in Macedoniathe Vainglory of Murder.32
Soon enough, the Hamidian administration was confronted with another instance of the
same terrible publicity, this time in the Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung of 15 March 1903.33 The
German publication was about two weeks late, and at least the severed heads had not made
it to the front cover (16). The article was similar to the French, referring to Macedonian
atrocities, and describing the way Turkish soldiers had carried the heads of their victims in
sacks to the closest photographer, where they could be displayed and recorded as decorative
objects and as the bloody evidence of their bestiality.34 There were probably other examples
throughout Europe; the governor of Edirne reported the publication of several such images


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13 What goes on 40 hours from Paris,

cover of LIllustration, no. 3131, 28
February 1903. EE.

14, 15 (page 124) The Turkish atrocities

in Macedoniafacing the camera. A
group of Turkish soldiers pose for the
photographer, with the heads of their
victims; The Turkish Atrocities in
Macedoniathe Vainglory of Murder.
Officers, noncommissioned officers,

soldiers, and gendarmes of H. M.

Abdlhamid having their photograph
taken with the heads of their tortured
victims; cover and page 335 of La Vie
illustre, no. 228, 27 February 1903. EE.


Powerful Images - The Dissemination and Impact

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in St. Petersburgs Novoye Vremya.35 In 1904 Albert Malet included one of these photographs
in his recollections of travels in Macedonia in September 1902, published in Le Tour du
monde.36 That same year, a book published in the United States by two Bulgarians on the
Macedonian problem used one such photograph on the cover and as a frontispiece.37
The political power that these images meant to unleash is particularly evident in the text
accompanying the images in La Vie illustre. Signed by Henri de Weindel, chief editor, the
article is a violent diatribe against Abdlhamid, blaming him for the atrocities committed
against the civilian population of Macedonia by his troops. After describing in great detail
scenes of violence and torture, de Weindel refers to the images as the irrefutable evidence of
these crimes:
And here are the documents: we are not producing narratives,
we are not producing anecdotes, we are not producing literary
descriptions, we are bringing photographs. And truly, the view
they offer the eyes is worth more than all the descriptions
in the world, for the Sublime Porte cannot contest their
authenticity, since a photographic plate cannot lie. These
photographs were taken between September and December
1902, and once they were informed of their existence, the

16 Macedonian Atrocities. Turkish

Rule by Horror. Turkish soldiers at the
photographers, posing with the heads of

their victims, Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung

12, no. 11, 15 March 1903, page 163. EE.


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Sultans police had all the images destroyednot soon

enough, however, for a very small number of proofs escaped
destruction. How many are circulating in the world? Five
or six, ten at most. We have managed, with the greatest
difficulty, to acquire a collection of these, the most typical of
which we have reproduced here.38
De Weindels rhetoric fully embraced the vision of photography as truth, so typical of those
years when photojournalism was developing at remarkable speed. Notably, de Weindels claim
that the images were worth more than all the descriptions in the world concurred with
Abdlhamids own reported opinion. Indeed, Ottoman records indicate that the government
began to hunt for compromising images on 28 February 1903, just one day after the publication
of La Vie illustreand the very day on which LIllustrationcame out. Yet the first references to
these magazines did not appear in the archives until ten days later. This means that the starting
point for Ottoman action was not the publication of the images, but a dispatch from the palace
following information received that some Macedonian criminals have attempted to exhibit
photographs of the severed heads of Bulgarian bandits placed on a table with policemen and
gendarmes around them. In other words, Ottoman suppression of the images was originally
directed at their display and availability, probably in photographers shops.
The Inspectorate of Rumelia was instructed to investigate the matter, with the predictable
remark that this was absolutely contrary to the truth and the result of a deceitful fabrication
by evildoers.39 The answer came the following day:
In [18901891], when Faik Pasha was governor and Mehmed
Pasha commander of the Gendarmerie, the severed heads of
Greek bandits killed at Goritsa were brought to Monastir and
their photographs taken in the presence of gendarmes and
policemen. The governors office in Monastir reports that the
glass plates of these photographs were seized and destroyed,
and we have instructed all those concerned that if any such
photographs are to be found, they should be seized and
destroyed, together with their glass plates.40
Evidently, then, de Weindel was telling the truth when he claimed that his journal had
gotten hold of some of the few images that had escaped destruction. A concrete illustration
of this is provided by three surviving albumen prints, two of which correspond perfectly to
photographs published in the press (17, 18, 19).41
The impact of these photographs on public opinion is not difficult to imagine. The real
question is to understand how this episode of photographic history came into being. Where
was the truth de Weindel was so eager to reveal? Throughout its correspondence, the Ottoman
administration insistently referred to these images as heinous plots and evil fabrications,
implying that they were forgeries of some sort. The subject of the original photographs is
not in doubt, but could they have been staged? The panic which seems to have swept over
the authorities suggests that they knew all too well that the only staging was in the mens

poses and the studio props. Moreover, the tradition of chopping off heads, especially those
of bandits, and using them as trophies and tangible proof of a victory or of an execution
was a deeply rooted tradition in the Ottoman lands.42 Evidence that this gory business was
still alive and well is found in some diplomatic correspondence from 1896, only a few years
before these events. The Greek legation had conveyed a claim by one Mako Fatzoulari to the
local authorities in Monastir for the bounty promised to the killers of a bandit by the name
of Chanaka. The claim was rejected on the grounds that the bounty was conditional on
presentation of the bandits severed head, which Fatzoulari had failed to produce.43 That the
tangible proof extended to photographs was an innovation, to be sure.
And yet, there were some inconsistencies on the other side, too. The massive and almost
simultaneous use of these images in the Western illustrated press may have been the result
of a chain reaction from one periodical to another, but it seems likely also to have been the
result of a concerted effort of Macedonian freedom fighters or their supporters to bombard
the Western public with hard evidence of atrocities committed in the region. Yet according
to the reports from Monastir, there was a discrepancy of about ten years in the dates of the
photographs. If the Ottoman authorities had every reason to lie about the nature of these
photographs, they had none to predate them by a decade. It is possible that the images
circulated in 1902 were recycled documents from the 1890s, which does not make them any
less horrible, but significantly changes their political circumstances.
There is yet another complicating factor. About a month into the crisis, the authorities in
Salonica seized a stock of three hundred fifty photographs of severed heads. The culprit was
a German watchmaker by the name of Bader, who also sold photographic equipment.44 He
admitted to having had the images printed to order in Germany. Their content was described
as the severed heads of two persons from the Macedonian committees and the likeness
of one living person (20).45 Gone were the gendarmes and the soldiers, but who could the
living person, obviously a civilian, have been? The answer is to be found in another image
in Malets 1904 travelogue. Captioned as a Macedonian postcard sold at stationery shops
in Salonica, it showed the two sides of a postcard, illustrated with a bearded man standing
behind two likewise bearded but lifeless severed heads.46 The inscriptions are difficult to
read, but luckily there is another copy of the postcard in the Museum of the Macedonian
Struggle.47 The name of the publisher, G. Bader, Salonique, confirms that this postcard was
one of those confiscated in 1903. And the caption helpfully identifies the scene: Macedonian
brigands. The Simotta affair of 1899. The criminal Karalivanos gang had abducted a Salonica
merchant named Simotta and killed three members of his household. After forty days in
captivity, and thanks to the defection of one of the gang members, he was freed and some
members of the gang were killed and decapitated.48 The postcard depicted the exhibition of
these headspresumably as a reassuring expression of the terrible and implacable justice of
the state. Yet the presence of a living man who looked pretty much like a brigand himself is
surprising. Was he one of the survivors, forced to pose as an example? Or was he the defector?
The mystery persists. Despite de Weindels claim that a photographic plate cannot lie, it
seems impossible to ascertain the exact circumstances and meaning of these photographs.
There is little doubt that the practice of posing next to severed heads had developed as a
popular subgenre of studio photography. Was the impetus for it the push of soldiers and


Powerful Images - The Dissemination and Impact

of Photography in the Ottoman Empire, 18701914



brigands alike, who wanted a memento of their bravura

and of the utter destruction of their foes? Or was it the
pull exerted by a public demand that owed much to the
promotional techniques of provincial photographers?
Most likely, both factors fed on each other to create a
market, somewhere between novelty and pornography,
which extended from the individual participant to the local
Shocking as they may be, these photographs seem to have
functioned rather smoothly in a particular environment
for over a decade, catering to needs and expectations of the
local population. Outsidersespecially foreigners, but also
people from the capital and other provinces of the empire
seem to have played a marginal role. True, the postcard in
the Museum of the Macedonian Struggle was sent (with
impeccable good taste) by a Frenchman to his dear nieces
in Marseilles, but the extreme rarity of such items outside
of the Ottoman lands suggests that this was not a very
popular or familiar commodity for tourists.49 And yet a single
leak at the right moment seems to have caused a sudden
explosion of images of Ottoman gendarmes posing around
severed heads in major European illustrated magazines.

The combined effect of an inquisitive French journalist (perhaps motivated by European

geopolitical sympathies) and an overzealous provincial administration, transformed the
nature of these photographs. From a staged memento of local violence and manliness, they
were promoted to the status of truthful evidence in a major political conflict. Never had
Abdlhamids saying seemed truer.
17, 18, 19 Three albumen prints of
Ottoman soldiers and gendarmes posing
with severed heads in Macedonian
photograph studios. The photograph on
the left is evidently the source for the
covers of LIllustration and La Vie illustre,
as well as the inner page of the Berliner
Illustrirte Zeitung. The middle photograph
corresponds to one of the images used
in La Vie illustre and to that in Albert
Malets Tour du Monde article, published
the following year. The third photograph
does not seem to have been reproduced
in the press. Sinan Kuneralp Collection,
20 Macedonian brigands. The Simotta
affair of 1899, postcard published by G.
Bader, Salonica [Thessaloniki], dated and
mailed on 26 October 1901. Museum of
the Macedonian Struggle, Thessaloniki,
Photographic Archive, Papaioannou
Collection, 57616.

Severed heads in the foreign press could seriously harm the empires image, and that of its
sovereign. Images proved to be a most dangerous tool, open to all sorts of manipulations.
For Abdlhamid, therefore, it was of crucial importance to find ways to counter such
offensivesor at least to neutralize their impact. He had several options, the most radical
of which was to prevent negative material from being published at all, and in the event that
it was, to obtain an immediate retraction. Since he had no real leverage on the international
press, the best he could do was to prevent these images from reaching the Ottoman
public. Numerous orders to prohibit or seize magazines attest to his desperate efforts to
filter images within the empires boundaries. They often met with little success, as the
inviolability of foreign post offices represented a major breach in the watertight system
Abdlhamid sought to establish.50
The Sultan did try to exert some power over the production of images and information in the
West. His ambassadors in Paris and other capitals were constantly trying to divert attacks,
including from the illustrated press. To a certain extent European governments did try to
avoid the more outrageous forms of criticism, especially in mainstream press organs; but the


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marginal press was free to indulge in very harsh depictions of Ottoman atrocities and abuses.
A typical example was the radical LAssiette au beurre, whose uncompromising political stand
led it to devote entire issues to condemning Abdlhamids regime as criminal, especially with
respect to the treatment of the Armenian population.51 In the last decade before World War I,
longstanding European anxieties about an explosive Eastern Question figured prominently
in the press. But there was often a general feeling that perhaps even the authoritarian
Abdlhamid was preferable to a sudden and uncontrolled collapse of the Ottoman Empire;
the sovereign knew well how to exploit this chronic weakness in order to maintain and defend
some of his most untenable policies.
He was also known to use bribery and flattery to obtain the support of individuals with power
and influence. It has often been claimed that some editors and journalists in Europe were in
his pay, and could thus be manipulated into either praising his regime or preventing negative
publicity. While such assertions are difficult to prove, the state archives abound in documents
concerning the awarding of decorations to men and women thought to be of influence.52 In
reality, apart from some marginal individuals ready to sell their services to the Sultan, most
representatives of this powerful sector were impervious to Ottoman manipulation. Difficult as
it is to measure what has notbeen published, the mainstream European illustrated press does
seem to have been somewhat more lenient than if there had been no strings attached; harshly
negative images like the severed heads of 1903 constituted a relatively marginal portion of a
very dense iconographic coverage of the empire.
If damage control was possible up to a certain point, it was clearly more difficult to force
certain images upon the magazines of the time, especially those published outside the empire.
An instance has been found in which Abdlhamid had the Istanbul photographer Pascal Sbah
document the suffering of Muslim civilians, especially women, during the advance of the
Russian army in the 18771878 conflict, and these images were then used as source material
for a composite engraving in Le Monde illustr.53 But this almost unique case of a perspective
sympathetic to the Muslim victims of the conflict was drowned in a mass of violent images of
Turkish barbarism, and was published with too little context to encourage empathy. Generally
speaking, when the Ottoman Empire made it into the pages of the major illustrated magazines
of the time, it was on Europes terms and not according to an agenda set by the Ottoman
government. It was only after the end of Abdlhamids autocratic regime that the Europeans
adopted a more sympathetic stand toward the empire. From the Young Turk Revolution of
July 1908 on, the Western media gave short-lived but enthusiastic support to the new regime
through broad photographic coverage of the radical changes the empire was undergoing.
The rather skewed and erratic way in which images were transferred from an Ottoman context
to a European one is well illustrated by a specific case in 1899, in which a group photograph
of three imperial princes and two comrades was recycled. In the photograph, showing five
children in uniform stiffly lined up in front of the monumental staircase of a palace, was
published in LIllustration with the caption, Prince Abdul-Rahim Efendi, the Sultans son,
admitted into the Muslim religion. Only three of the five boys were identified, and a small
note directed readers to a related article (21). Prince Abdrrahim, age five, had just been
circumcisedhence the reference to admission into Islam. Ceremonies and celebrations had
followed and according to custom this had been the occasion for the circumcision of some of

the princes friends, seen in the photograph, and of thousands of poor children of the capital,
who had then received gifts from the Sultan. The whole event had cost 250,000 Ottoman
pounds, the equivalent of 5,750,000 francs.54
The photograph was authentic, of course, and can be identified as the work of Boghos
Tarkoulian (22).55 The reference to circumcision was correct, though the identification of
the children was incomplete. Yet the real context of the photograph was lost. To recover it
requires a thorough analysis of the local press of the time. On 9 June 1899, three weeks before
LIllustration, the illustrated weekly rtika (Rising) published the photograph on its cover,
giving a very different impression from that of the image safely tucked inside the French
magazine (23).56 rtika was owned and run by Tahir Bey, a supporter of the regime. Evidently
this was a major event, which the magazine intended to advertise as part of its ongoing
glorification of the sovereign. Malumat (Information), another weekly illustrated magazine
owned by the same Tahir, had published the same photograph a day earlier, not on the cover,
but as a centerfold with detailed captions in Turkish and in French (24). The issue was filled
with poems by a legion of sycophantic bureaucrats and included a pompous acclamation of
the Sultans act of magnanimity. These celebratory texts were followed by another series of
poems, devoted to the inauguration of the Hamidiye Hospital for children.57 The connection
between the two events is revealed in yet another of the major illustrated magazines of the
time, Ahmed hsan Beys Servet-i Fnun(Treasury of the Arts). On 8 June 1899, the same
publication date as Malumat, its cover boasted a photograph of the hospital with a revealing
bilingual caption: The Hamidi Hospital for children, erected at the expense of His
Imperial Majesty the Sultan and inaugurated on Monday, June 5, on the occasion of the
circumcision ceremony of His Imperial Highness Abdul-Rahim Efendi (25). Inside, instead
of the photograph of the princes, the magazine chose to publish an image of one of the
wards, accompanied by a long and detailed description of the hospital.58
The synchronicity of these publications underscores one of the main characteristics of the
Hamidian press: its univocal and unconditional submission to the regimes priorities. This
political control went beyond the simple notion of censorship: the government determined
not only what should not be said, but also what shouldbe said. Three separate magazines, two
owned by the same publisher, harmonized their accounts of an imperial show of munificence.
Each focused only on a particular aspect of the event, however, so that the entire picture was
impossible to see unless all three were viewed together. This anomaly probably derived from
each publications slightly different profile. rtika was the most traditional, discussing mostly
literature and poetry; Malumat, which proudly called itself LIllustration turque, came closer to
the modern magazines of the time, but openly espoused a conservative Islamic discourse;
Servet-i Fnun was the most Western of all, with numerous illustrations printed on glossy paper,
and a focus on technological and artistic novelty and travel pieces, generally borrowed from the
West. Each magazine thus reflected differences in register, ranging from Malumats conservative
praise of the Sultan to Servet-i Fnuns modernist admiration for a brand-new hospital.
LIllustration had ignored the whole matter of the hospital and focused on the circumcision
of the little prince as most likely to draw the attention of readers. The naive pose of children
was charming, and the huge sums spent on the event lent it the quality of a tale from the
Thousand and One Nightsvery different from the rather mundane announcement of the


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21 Prince Abdrrahim Efendi, son of

the Sultan, is received into the Muslim
religion, LIllustration, no. 2940, (1 July
1899), page 13. EE.

22 Prince Abdrrahims circumcision,

photograph by Boghos Tarkoulian, 1899.

23 Prince Abdrrahims circumcision,

cover of rtika, no. 13, 28 May 1315 (9
June 1899). National Library, Ankara.


Powerful Images - The Dissemination and Impact

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building of a childrens hospital. Despite the fact that a much more sophisticated story was
available, connecting a religious tradition with a modern establishment, the French magazine
chose to isolate the most exotic element and present it as a curiosity. The image had been
transferred to an invented European context on Europes terms, and the local story rejected
entirely. So much so that this image was soon turned into a popular tourist postcardwhich,
ironically, the Hamidian administration tried to prevent from circulating (26).59
This case neatly illustrates the limits of Abdlhamids capacity to influence the foreign media.
Whether he really tried to feed this story to the Western illustrated press is not clear; in fact,
it is likely that the French magazine itself cherry-picked this photograph for its appeal, and
was simply uninterested in reporting on a developing and modernizing Ottoman Empire. A
parallel may be drawn between the fate of this photograph and that of the albums presented
to the Library of Congress and British Library. In all three cases, Abdlhamid had attempted
to use photography to force a positive vision of the empire on targeted audiences. The West,
however, remained unimpressed and simply ignored this photographic onslaught, sticking
to a specific repertoire of images consistent with its own preconceptions, reinforcing age-old
stereotypes or the dominant political agenda of the moment.
Nevertheless, what Abdlhamid failed to impose on Western audiences he did foist on the local
illustrated press, where it formed the core message. The nearly uniform narrative offered by
the three magazines about Abdrrahims circumcision and the inauguration of the childrens
hospital was repeated with disturbing regularity on all sorts of matters; the discourse always
converged on the glorification and praise of the Sultan, his achievements, and his entourage.
In some cases all three magazines shared a common image to commemorate some striking
event. For example, when Marshal Gazi Osman Pashas death was announced on 5 April 1900,
both Malumat and rtika mourned this former war hero with an identical cover photograph,
while Servet-i Fnun used a similar but full-length image as a centerfold (27,28, 29).60

24 Prince Abdrrahims circumcision in

Malumat, no. 187, 27 May 1315 (8 June
1899). MKC.
25 The Hamidiye Hospital for Children,
cover of Servet-i Fnun 17, no. 430, 27
May 1315 (8 June 1899). National Library,
26 The Imperial Princes, postcard,
publisher unknown, dated and mailed on 5
February 1905. EE.

More frequent were variations on a theme. Most often this was a new construction
contributing to the modernization of the empire. Government palaces were extremely
popular, as they illustrated the states ability to conquer the periphery; so were bridges and
tunnels, which were presented as striking achievements of modern technology (30, 31,
32). Servet-i Fnun, strongly attached to the idea of progress, bombarded its readers with
such images. Seven consecutive covers in the summer of 1900 boasted a high school in
Nevehir, a military depot in Gevgili, a girls high school in Ioannina, the same school with
its students posing before it, the government palace in Persican, a government building and
shops in Nide, and a hospital for the poor in Konya (33, 34). The captions used heightened
language and incantatory repetition to celebrate the Sultans magnanimity. Each building was
presented as resulting from the protection (saye) of His Majesty the Emperor or the Caliph
(hazret-i padiahi, hazret-i hilafetpenahi), bearer of prosperity (umranvaye, mamuriyetvaye), of
bounty (fyuzatvaye), of knowledge (maarifvaye), of compassion (merahimvaye).61
True, 1900 was a special year, Abdlhamids twenty-fifth on the throne. In a sense, these
images were building toward a climax on 1 September, when a heavily illustrated special
issue was published, dedicated to the Silver Jubilee.62 Page after page of photographs revealed
the latest developments in all areas associated with modernity, progress, and welfare, from


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Salonica to Sanaa and from Bursa to Mecca. Four hospitals,

a hospice, two public fountains, two bridges, a lazaretto,
two medical laboratories, a column commemorating the
telegraph, an arms depot, a post office, the Imperial Museum
and School of Fine Arts, an institute of sericulture, a new
grand boulevard, and two barracks. Schools were particularly
prominent: in Aleppo, Sinop, Salonica, and Edirne; groups of
students from Ioannina and Yemen were shown, as well as
four group photographs of military units.
Perhaps most striking of all these photographs is a school
group, first year students of the school for the deaf and
dumb, posing with their instructors (35).63 Twenty boys of
all ages, flanked by six instructors, stage a visual message
directed at both the reader and the Sultan himself. The
teachers stand in a typical posture of obsequious deference,
with hands joined over the lower belly (el pene divan). The
children, arranged in three rows according to size, fulfill
two different roles: the younger hold their hands with palms
turned up in a gesture of prayer, while the elder each make
a different sign with one hand, spelling the predictable
collective phrase, Padiahm ok yaa, long live the Sultan,
the most common way in which the Sultan was celebrated in
popular events.64 Behind them hangs a large framed turaof

the Sultan, yet another reminder of the invisible yet ubiquitous Abdlhamid, to whom all this
display of gratitude and loyalty is addressed.

27, 28, 29 Left to right: The late Gazi

Osman Pasha, rtika, no. 54, 24 March
1316 (6 April 1900); Malumat, no. 231,
30 March 1316 (12 April 1900); Servet-i
Fnun, no. 474, 30 March 1316 (12 April
1900). National Library, Ankara.
30 Iron bridge over the River Veshash in
Baghdad, Servet-i Fnun, no. 475, 6 April
1316 (18 April 1900). National Library,

This is a fascinating image in itself, but more extraordinary is that it is identical with one
of the Abdullah Frres photographs included in the famous Library of Congress and British
Library albums, produced some seven years earlier.65 Servet-i Fnunclearly had no scruples
about recycling an old photograph, and the public most likely did not even notice it. More
importantly, however, this photograph reveals a striking relationship between the magazines
iconographic program and the authorities somewhat desperate attempt to impress Western
governments and public opinion with photographic material such as the Washington and
London albums. The thousands of photographs that had accumulated for over a decade in the
palace archives may have failed as a public-relations campaign, but they found a useful outlet
in the local illustrated press, where images were systematically pumped through a subservient
and controlled media to address a captive audience. With a circulation of about four
thousand, the weekly Servet-i Fnun could have only a limited and socially skewed impact, but
the Ottoman illustrated press as a whole ended up bringing to the greater public the positive
images of an autocratic modernity that the foreign media were unwilling to include in their
coverage of the Ottoman Empire.66

Between propaganda and criticism, censorship and public relations, lay a huge gray area,
characterized by freedom or simply by the lack of effective control. Scholarship tends to focus
on the extremes and exceptions, always easier to document and to contextualize. Because
they are visible and appealing, we know more about censorship and scandal than about the


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of Photography in the Ottoman Empire, 18701914



mysteries of the normal and the ordinary. In the case of photography, the only way to see past
the frozen images of censored magazines or of government mouthpieces is to look at the
actual circulation of images among individuals. The methodological challenge to analyzing
this undefined mass of documentation is overwhelming. The problem may be narrowed if
we focus on one representative and very popular type of image whose circulation is fairly
traceable: the postcard.
The postcard offers a good example of the sudden leap in the circulation of images at the
turn of the twentieth century; it also reveals the limits of our ability and willingness to give
ordinary and ubiquitous objects the treatment they deserve. The rare existing studies of
Ottoman postcards concentrate on the wide repertoire of images that graced them. Little
attention is given to the information that can be gleaned from the backs. Yet these novelty
objects were used by a steadily growing number of correspondents and collectors, and
addresses, postmarks, captions, and texts all provide a rich store of data.67 Postcards have
been published as an iconographic document of the bygone beauties of Istanbul and other
Ottoman cities, or of a vanished lifestyle.68 The few studies that have focused on the postcard
as a textual medium have made a selective use of single cases or specific samples determined
by the identity of the author or recipient.69 From a rare contemporary report on this novelty,
we know that before World War I sales in Istanbul reached several million pieces. There
were several genres and categories: most popular were views of the city and its monuments,
followed by local types, from street vendors to dervishes and including Turkish ladies
or Oriental beauties. Allegorical scenes were common for holidays; the faces of attractive
women were also much in demand, as were those of women in bathing suits creating the
illusion of nudity. So were humorous cards and reproductions of famous paintings or
historical scenes, among which Napolons achievements were particularly appreciated.
At the bottom of the ladder were bawdy and risqu scenes representing couples in
various degrees of intimacy and dress and even obscene series of rather realist but crude
photographs to be found in the backrooms of vendors.70 As to the rest of the empire,
postcards were common in urban centers and port cities, but almost absent from the
hinterland.71 By and large, the market depended heavily on foreigners, tourists or residents,
to whom the postcard was both a memento and a medium of succinct, cheap, and rapid
correspondence, and of Ottomans who espoused Western practices and lifestyle.
Yet the actual uses of postcards are still begging for a comprehensive survey; a broad-scope
review of thousands of postcards could begin to make sense of the complex relationships
among image, caption, layout, quality, origin, publisher, text, date, sender, and recipient.
Notably, a large number of vintage postcards are uncirculated, either from collections or from
unsold stock. Of those that did circulate a surprisingly large number have a totally unrelated
text and image. Today we forget that it was then very common for individuals to collect
postcards by engaging in exchanges with total strangers; thus many postcards that circulated
widely and were well-preserved have practically no relation to any context.
31, 32 The Eskiehir-Ankara railroad in the
Sakarya Valley, Malumat, no. 233, 13 April
1316 (25 April 1900), pages 824825;
rtika, no. 57, 14 April 1316 (26 April
1900). National Library, Ankara.

33 Inauguration of the high school for

girls in Ioannina, Servet-i Fnun, no. 487,
29 June 1316 (12 July 1900). National
Library, Ankara.

This may frustrate the historian who dreams of giving meaning to such exchanges, but it speaks
to the phenomenal popularity and momentum that the photographic image acquired by the
turn of the twentieth century. The work of some of the best photographers was used, often


Powerful Images - The Dissemination and Impact

of Photography in the Ottoman Empire, 18701914



without identification, to produce myriads of postcards that were bought, collected, exchanged,
and mailed in prodigious quantities. The images Basireti Ali Efendi had seen displayed in
a shop window some thirty or forty years earlier had now been transferred to a postcard that
could be had for 10 to 20 paras and sent to a friend or acquaintance for another 10 or 20. No
wonder, then, that most of the cards that circulated were merely a colorful means to expedite
messages. A French family wishes to rent your house for thirty liras a year. Please advise as to
whether this is possible or not, says a color postcard of the Princes Islands sent by one Nafa
Hanm from Kandilli to a azimend Hanm in skdar (36). In all likelihood, the choice of this
view was random, as when a certain Nadide wrote to her niece in Salonica to announce that her
sister had given birth to a girl named Emine Celile on a postcard showing the Sweet Waters of
Europe a favorite promenade in the vicinity of the capital (37). Some choices, however, cannot
be dismissed as accidental or casual. In spring 1914, Mehmed Hsameddin, probably a young
officer posted in Baghdad, sent greetings to Cavalry Lieutenant Ali Ekrem Bey in Istanbul on
a postcard with a reproduction of an 1840 painting by Horace Vernet, Judah and Tamar. The
scene is the biblical story of Tamar, who poses as a prostitute in order to trick her father-in-law
Judah into getting her pregnant (38). The postcard titles this, oddly, A historical Arabic view.

34 Students of the high school for girls in

Ioannina, no. 488, 6 July 1316 (19 July
1900). National Library, Ankara.

The soldier apparently fell for a slightly erotic and typically

Orientalist depiction of Arabs, which perhaps corresponded
to his own and his peers vision of the populations of this
distant province of the empire.72 And nothing shows better the
universal appeal of this new medium than a pair of identical
Orientalist postcards reproducing The Tryst, a painting from
about 1840 attributed to Jean-Lon Grme. In both, the title
is given as harem scene in Constantinople, and both were
mailed in 1902, one by a Frenchman writing from Bulgaria to
his cousins in Sacy, and one by an Arab trader from Aleppo,
writing to the famous trading company of Maghamez Brothers
in Istanbul (39).

35 First-year students of the school for

the deaf and dumb, Servet-i Fnun, no.
494, 19 August 1316 (1 September 1900),
page 418. National Library, Ankara.

Of course, the relationship between text and image was

not always erratic. One telling example is a postcard of
the thermal spa at Yalova, recently renovated by order of


Powerful Images - The Dissemination and Impact

of Photography in the Ottoman Empire, 18701914



36 Princes Islands, Constantinople,

postcard from a photograph by Sbah &
Joaillier, published by Max Fruchtermann,
dated and mailed on 24 March 1905. EE.
37 Sweet Waters of Europe, Greetings
from Constantinople, postcard dated 17
May 1321 (30 May 1905). EE.
38 A historical Arabic view, postcard
published by Abdulaly & Brothers,
Baghdad, dated and mailed on 25
February 1329 (10 March 1914). EE.
39 Harem Scene, Constantinople, two
postcards published by the tablissement
Horticole de Therapia, mailed from Aleppo
on 30 June 1902 and from Bulgaria on 15
January 1902. EE.


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of Photography in the Ottoman Empire, 18701914



Abdlhamid, mailed from that resort to Istanbul in 1899 (40). The text is addressed to a certain
Ziya Bey, an employee of the Privy Purse, and reads like a pastiche of a caption from rtika or
A general view of the mountain baths of Yalova, from among
the glorious establishments of His Imperial Majesty
My Lord,
The present missive, which bears a general view of the
Yalova mountain baths, constituting a highly esteemed and
superior complement to His Imperial Majestys achievements
of prosperity and glory, is presented to You as I submit my
sincere expression of respect and beg that you may continue to
bestow [upon me] your favors and friendship.73
Abdlhamid would have been proud of this loyal subject, who fully embraced the rhetoric of
imperial public relations in his correspondence with a (fellow?) bureaucrat. Some fifteen years
later, during World War I, a postcard showing the so-called Tomb of Sardanapalus in Tarsus
provided a Young Turk version of the same phenomenon. A teacher on leave there wrote to
his students in Bursa, giving them a concise geography and history lesson. He described the
produce of the area, the character of its people, its demography, its schools, and its principal
religious and historical landmarks. Some expressions were clearly in tune with the political
Zeitgeist: the French school has been seized; the town has a population of 32,000, with only
1,000 Greeks and Armenians; the school children are particularly intelligent and studious (41).

40 Souvenir of Yalova, Thermal baths of

Coury-les-Bains, postcard published by
Max Fruchtermann, dated 17 July 1315
(29 July 1899). EE.

41 The tomb of Sardanapalus at Tarsus,

postcard published by D. G. Mavroyannis,
Mersin, dated and mailed on 30 December
1330 (12 January 1915). EE.


Powerful Images - The Dissemination and Impact

of Photography in the Ottoman Empire, 18701914



42 In Stamboul (Constantinople)A
new sight: women of the people buying
cockades, LIllustration, no. 3417, 22
August 1908. EE.
43 H. I. M. Sultan Mehmed Khan V,
postcard published anonymously,
uncirculated. Cengiz Kahraman collection,
44 Mahmud evket Pasha, Generalissimo
of the Army of Liberation, postcard
published by MJC (Mose Israilovitch,
Constantinople), mailed on 4 September
1329 (17 September 1913). EE.

The difference between the pompous rhetoric of a Hamidian bureaucrat and the enthusiastic
discourse of a Young Turk teacher denotes more than just a change in tone. The revolution of
July 1908 had radically changed the way in which images were used and disseminated, while
at the same time introducing a new repertoire of themes and subjects. For a time, during
that short-lived Ottoman springtime, restrictions on the use and circulation of images had
been lifted, unleashing the full power of photography at the service of the new regime. Once
again, LIllustration offers a striking testimony of this phenomenon, thanks to a photograph
of a street scene published in the days that followed the revolution. The caption offers the
magazines ostensible reason for publishing this photograph: A new sight: women of the
people buying cockades.74 But the women are in the background; far more prominent is a
young boy who stares right into the camera and gestures to his friend, as if he wanted him
to turn around and face the lens too. In his right hand, he holds a large printed photograph
of a bearded dignitary, easily recognizable as Kmil Pasha, appointed Grand Vizier on 5
August 1908. This scene is a powerful reminder of the radical transformation undergone

by photography both technologically and politically. The arrival of the snapshotfast,

casual, and unstagedhad brought a sense that reality could be recordedan idea that
photojournalism exploited to the full during the troubles to give readers a totally new feeling
of immediacy. The object of the photograph himself revealed yet another layer of novelty
by displaying the photographic political portrait as a new kind of symbolic commodity that
fueled political engagement and sentiments of patriotism (42).
It is no surprise, then, that the new politics led to a new iconography, disseminated by a
number of means, but especially postcards. These now boasted a whole new set of image
types: group photographs of leading Young Turks, warships, allegorical scenes of the
Ottoman nation reborn, and portraits of individual heroes and statesmen soon conquered
an iconographic space once carefully monitored by Abdlhamids censors. As if to reverse
Abdlhamids reluctance to display his likeness, his successor Mehmed V Reads portrait
became one of the most popular icons of the new order, reproduced on myriad magazine
covers and postcards (43). The paternal appearance of the aging monarch provided a
comforting image of unity and stability in the troubled years of revolution and war that
preceded the final conflagration of the Great War. The very photogenic Mahmud evket Pasha,
commander of the army that liberated the Ottoman capital in April 1909, following the
counterrevolution organized by the Young Turks opponents, was yet another candidate for
visual glory (44).


Powerful Images - The Dissemination and Impact

of Photography in the Ottoman Empire, 18701914



characteristic Prussian moustache became one of the last icons of the Ottoman Empire.
The quantity of postcards that can still be found todaymostly uncirculatedis witness to
the massive demand that must have existed for this memento of patriotism and budding
Why did Enver gain such iconic prominence over other actors of the time? His companion of
the early days, Niyazi Bey, withdrew from politics rather rapidly and died in 1913; Mahmud
evket Pasha was a contender, but he was assassinated that same year. Some of the civilian
leaders, such as Ahmed Rza, appeared in the press, but rarely on postcards. Talat and Cemal,
the two other members of the triumvirate, who ruled the country with Enver throughout the
war, were apparently just not postcard material. It may have been Envers youth and style
that gave him such an overwhelming presence in the visual media. Yet crucially, he engaged
actively in the construction of his own image, from the very beginning of his career. One
postcard from 1908 or 1909 is particularly revealing of this process (45). Wearing his military
outfit and gear, the young officer poses with his right hand holding a rifle, his eyes firmly set
on the horizon beyond the camera, in an attitude of intense attention and determination.
The French caption completes the scene by insisting on the martial and heroic nature of the
image: Enver Bey, the champion of Freedom, in campaign uniform. Enver was patently
intent on seducing the mass public with his image of a gallant officer ready and willing to save
the country from all threats and foes. By fashioning himself carefully into a certain role, he
revived one of the most traditional genres in photography, the portrait, but brought it to an
unprecedented level of public distribution.76

45 The champion of Liberty, Enver Bey

in campaign uniform, 1908 or 1909,
uncirculated postcard, published by
Albert J. Barzilai, Salonica (Thessaloniki).
Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality
Atatrk Library, Krt_000921.

With the changing times less conventional actors now appeared, whose youth and charisma
introduced a new type of heroic imagery into the political realm. Among these, one man
shone with particular intensity: Enver Bey, later Pasha, the man most closely associated
with the active and heroic phase of the revolution. Starting as a simple officer posted in
Macedonia, he had led the movement that had finally managed to topple Abdlhamids
autocracy, forcing him to reinstate the constitution and parliament he had abolished more
than thirty years earlier. This young officerhe was under thirty at the timebecame a living
symbol of the new regime, and remained so until the collapse of the empire at the end of the
Great War. It was through photography, and particularly thanks to the massive production
of postcards, that his reputation and image were formed. From the beginning of his career,
when he was commonly referred to as the Hero of Liberty, to the apex of his power, when
he combined the titles of War Minister, Deputy Commander-in-Chief, and imperial son-inlaw, postcards of him were ubiquitous. The image of this man in uniform and wearing his

In less than fifty years, on a bumpy path to modernity, photography in the Ottoman
Empire evolved from the marginal status of a novelty for the elite few to an object of mass
consumption. During the three decades of Abdlhamids modernist autocracy, its period
of gestation, it was dominated by a growing tension between the natural propensity of the
image to free itself from all constraints and the regimes implacable desire to monitor and
subdue it. The revolution of 1908 put an end to this tension by unleashing the full power
of photography in the making of a new social and political order. It was not long, however,
before this short-lived moment of freedom gave way to one of the darkest periods of Ottoman
history; photography followed suit, and soon abandoned its recently achieved freedom to
become the instrument of violent ideologies and aggressive nation building.


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1 Basireti Ali, ehir Mektubu numero 27, Basiret 458,
16 Cemaziylahir 1288 (20 August 1287, 1 September
1871), 2. See also Basireti Ali, stanbul Mektuplar,
ed. Nuri Salam (Istanbul: Kitabevi, 2001), 5152. All
translations from Turkish and French are the authors.
2 For noteworthy exceptions, see the photographic
portraits of two of Sultan Abdlmecids daughters,
Refia and Fatma, who posed for the Abdullah
Frres photograph studio in radically Western
garb, in Bahattin ztuncay, The Photographers of
Constantinople: Pioneers, Studios and Artists from
Nineteenth Century Istanbul, 2 vols. (Istanbul: Aygaz,
2003), 213.
3 For early examples of Sbahs Turkish women,
see ztuncay, Photographers of Constantinople, 454,
456457; for local types by the same studio, see 464,
473, 493499.
4 On 10 February 1892 the government gave orders
prohibiting photographers from taking pictures of
Greek and Armenian women wearing the Muslim
veil and cloak (yamak ve ferace), to show Muslim
costume under a strange form to Europeans, Prime
Ministers Ottoman Archives, Ottoman State Archives,
Istanbul (Babakanlk Osmanl Arivi, hereafter BOA),
. DH. 1264/99376, 11 Receb 1309 (9 February 1892).
5 BOA, Y. EE. KP. 17/1623, 24 Cemaziylahir 1320; MF.
MKT. 667/15, 5 Receb 1320 (8 October 1902); Y. EE. KP.
19/1834, 3 Rebiylahir 1321 (29 June 1903); DH. MKT.
808/13, 20 evval 1321 (9 January 1904). On 6 June
1898 postcards produced in Germany and bearing the
image of a veiled woman with the inscription Souvenir
de Constantinople were banned and confiscated, BOA,
MF. MKT. 398/57, 16 Muharrem 1316 (6 June 1898).
Two years later, in November 1900, similar measures
were taken to prevent the importation of postcards
bearing images of veiled women, sacred buildings, the
Kaaba and the names of God (BOA, BEO 1575/118094,
11 Receb 1316 (25 November 1898); . HUS. 85/1318,
18 Receb 1318 (2 December 1898). On 14 October
1901, a stock of postcards representing Muslim
women and originating from Germany was seized and
incinerated (BOA, BEO 1733/129925, 1 Receb 1319 (14
October 1901). As late as September 1907, a decree was
issued to prevent peddlers from selling postcards with
Muslim women to tourists on board the ships calling
at the harbor (BOA, ZB 22/81, 6 September 1323, 19
September 1907).
6 Osman Hamdy Bey and Marie de Launay, Les costumes
populaires de la Turquie en 1873: Ouvrage publi sous
le patronage de la Commission impriale de lExposition
universelle de Vienne. Texte de Son Excellence Hamdy Bey,

commissaire gnral et par Marie de Launay, membre de

la Commission impriale et du Jury international 1867
et 1873, Phototypie par P. Sbah, photographe privilgi
(Constantinople [Istanbul]: Imprimerie du Levant
Times and Shipping Gazette, 1873). Among salient
studies, see most notably, Ahmet Ersoy, A Sartorial
Tribute to Late Tanzimat Ottomanism: The Elbise-i
Osmaniyye Album, Muqarnas 20 (2003): 187207.
7 The book was published only in French, which
clearly shows that it was not intended for internal
consumption; the uncertain spelling in Turkish in
some of the captions confirms that they were meant
as a decorative local touch.
8 Carney E. S. Gavin, ed., Imperial Self-Portrait: The
Ottoman Empire as Revealed in the Sultan AbdulHamid IIs Photographic Albums Presented as Gifts
to the Library of Congress (1893) and the British
Museum (1894), special issue, Journal of Turkish
Studies 12 (1988).
9 Samuel S. Cox, Diversions of a Diplomat in Turkey (New
York: Charles L. Webster, 1887), 36.
10 BOA, Y. MTV. 13/123, 18 Rebiylahir 1301 (3 February
1299, 14 February 1884).
11 The Sultan of Turkey and the British Museum, The
Times (London), 7 May 1894.
12 On Ottoman participation in universal expositions,
see Zeynep elik, Displaying the Orient: Architecture
of Islam at Nineteenth Century Worlds Fairs (Berkeley:
University of California Press, 1992).
13 The Costumes populaires album was one of these.
Two others were a collective work on Ottoman
architecture, Edhem Pasha, Marie de Launay,
Pierre Montani, Boghos Chachian, and Maillard,
Usl- Mimar-i Osmn; Larchitecture ottomane Die
ottomanische Baukunst (Constantinople: Imprimerie
et Lithographie Centrales, 1873); and Philip Anton
Dethiers study of Istanbul and the Bosphorus, Le
Bosphore et Constantinople: Description topographique
et historique (Vienna: Alfred Hlder, 1873).
14 The Ottomans were absent from the 1876
Philadelphia Centennial Exposition, most likely
due to a major financial and political crisis in
18751876; in 1878 they had just ended a disastrous
war with Russia and could not prepare for the Paris
Exposition of that year; Abdlhamid himselflike
many other sovereignschose to boycott the 1889
Paris Exposition due to its explicit reference to the
centennial of the French Revolution.

15 Gavin, ed., Imperial Self-Portrait, 1011, 25;

Muhammad Isa Waley, Images of the Ottoman
Empire: The Photograph Albums Presented by Sultan
Abdlhamid II, British Library Journal 17, no. 2
(Autumn 1991): 112113.
16 Franois Georgeon, for example, considers that for
the Sultan, examining these images in a way replaces
inspection tours; it is a means of moving around his
empire without being seen, incognito, as did some of
his predecessors, who moved among the population
in disguise, Franois Georgeon, Abdulhamid II, le
sultan calife (18761909) (Paris: Fayard, 2003), 162.
17 Cox, Diversions of a Diplomat, 3745.
18 In December 1880 Abdullah Frres were formally
accused of reproducing a photograph of the Sultan
they had taken without his authorization; BOA, .
DH. 820/66156; Y. PRK. BK. 4/33, 22 Muharrem
1295 (25 December 1880). This may, however, have
been related to the fact that the studio had just a year
earlier lost the imperial warrant of appointment to
the Sultan; ztuncay, Photographers of Constantinople,
222. The ban or restriction on Abdlhamids portrait
merits a thorough study, especially with respect to its
political, ideological, symbolic, and even psychological
19 Un selamlik nouveau style, LIllustration 3416 (15
August 1908), 116.
20 Abdul-Hamid, LIllustration 3417 (22 August 1908).
21 Le Sultan Abdul-Hamid, LIllustration 1750 (9
September 1876); Abdul-Hamid Khan, souverain
de lEmpire ottoman, Petit journal 327 (21
February 1897); see also ztuncay, Photographers of
Constantinople, 219, 356.

Well-Protected Domains: Ideology and Legitimation of

Power in the Ottoman Empire, 18761909 (London: I. B.
Tauris, 1998), 2627, 3335.
26 For example, Gavin, ed., Imperial Self-Portrait, 7;
Georgeon, Abdulhamid II, 161.
27 [Tahsin Paa], Sultan Abdlhamid: Tahsin Paann
Yldz Hatralar (Istanbul: Boazii Yaynlar, 1996),
28 LIllustration 3131 (28 February 1903).
29 Albert Malet, En Macdoine, LIllustration 3131 (28
February 1903): 134.
30 This episode, and the chain reaction it caused in the
Ottoman administration, has been thoroughly studied
by pek Yosmaolu-Turner in Severed Heads in the
Camera Lucida: The Impossible Task of Ottoman
Image Management during the Macedonian Struggle,
paper presented at the Local and Imperial Approaches
to the Ottoman/Greek Social History Workshop,
Samos, 2001. It is discussed with much less detail
in her Blood Ties: Religion, Violence and the Politics of
Nationhood in Ottoman Macedonia, 18781908 (Ithaca:
Cornell University Press, 2014), 227229.
31 BOA, TFR. . A. 4/380, 25 February 1318 (10 March
32 Vie illustre 228 (27 February 1903).
33 Several copies are preserved in the Ottoman State
Archives, BOA, BEO 2015-151087.
34 Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung 12, no. 11 (15 March 1903): 163.
35 BOA, TFR. . A. 4/380, 17 February 1318 (2 March 1903).

22 Une paire damis, LIllustration, 2904 (22 October


36 Albert Malet, En MacdoineAu vilayet de Monastir,

Tour du monde 10, no. 2 (9 January 1904): 15.

23 Fin de rgne, LIllustration 3454 (8 May 1909).

37 George N. Chakaloff and Stanislav J. Shoomkoff,

The Macedonian Problem and Its Proper
Solution(Philadelphia: John C. Winston, 1904).

24 On the visibility of the sultans, see Edhem Eldem,

Pouvoir, modernit et visibilit: Lvolution de
liconographie sultanienne lpoque moderne, in
Omar Carlier and Raphalle Nollez-Goldbach, eds., Le
Corps du leader: Construction et reprsentation dans les
pays du Sud (Paris: LHarmattan, 2008), 171202.
25 On the Ottoman coat of arms see Edhem Eldem, Pride
and Privilege: A History of Ottoman Orders, Medals and
Decorations (Istanbul: Ottoman Bank Archives and
Research Centre, 2004). 282286; Selim Deringil, The

38 Henri de Weindel, Les atrocits turques en

MacdoineQuelques documents, Vie illustre 228
(27 February 1903): 334.
39 BOA, BEO 2019/151369, 24 February 1318 (9 March
1903); TFR. . A. 380/11, 25 February 1318 (10 March
1903); BOA, . MTZ (04) 24/1522, 15 February 1318
(28 February 1903).


Powerful Images - The Dissemination and Impact

of Photography in the Ottoman Empire, 18701914


40 BOA, TFR. . A. 4/380, 16 February 1318 (1 March 1903).

41 Sinan Kuneralp Collection, Istanbul. I first published
these extraordinary photographs in Death in Istanbul:
Death and Its Rituals in Ottoman-Islamic Culture
(Istanbul: Ottoman Bank Archive and Research
Centre, 2005), 188190.
42 Matei Cazacu, La mort infme: Dcapitation et
exposition des ttes Istanbul, in Gilles Veinstein,
ed., Les Ottomans et la mort: Permanences et mutations
(Leiden: Brill, 1996), 245289; Eldem, Death in
Istanbul, 8081, 188190.
43 Verbal note 21 175/56 from Foreign Minister Ahmed
Tevfik Pasha to the Greek minister Mavrocordato, 25
October 1896, in Sinan Kuneralp, ed., The Ottoman
Empire and Its Neighbours: Ottoman Diplomatic
Documents on the Turco-Greek Border Issue,Part 3 (18831912) (Istanbul: ISIS, 2015), 259, doc. 481.
44 G. Bader appears as an horloger (watchmaker) in
the Annuaire oriental du commerce, de lindustrie,
de ladministration et de la magistrature, 14
(Constantinople: Cervati Frres, 1896), 991.
45 BOA, TFR. . A. 4/380, 17 March 1319 (30 March 1903).
46 Malet, En MacdoineAu vilayet de Monastir, 20.
47 Brigands macdoniens. Affaire Simotta, postcard
published by G. Bader, Salonica, dated and mailed
from Salonica on 26 October 1901. Museum of
the Macedonian Struggle, Photographic Archive,
Papaioannou Collection, Thessaloniki, 57616.


aux derniers jours dAbdul-Hamid (Paris: Librairie des

Sciences Politiques et Sociales Marcel Rivire, [1907]),
7172). On the issue of image management, as he
calls it, with particular reference to the press, see
Deringil, Well-Protected Domains, 136141; see also
Eldem, Pride and Privilege, 345346.
53 Martina Baleva, Das Imperium schlgt zurck:
Bilderschlachten und Bilderfronten im RussischOsmanischen Krieg 18771878, in Martina
Baleva, Ingeborg Reichle, and Oliver Lerone
Schultz, eds., Image Match: Visueller Transfer,
Imagescapes und Intervisualitt in globalen
Bild-Kulturen (Munich: Wilhelm Fink, 2012),
87108; mparatorluun Misillemesi: 18771878
Osmanl-Rus Savanda Resim Savalar ve Resim
Cepheleri, Toplumsal Tarih 228 (December 2012):
3241. An interesting reference to Ottoman
photographic documentation of war casualties
is found in the contemporary British press:
Although the Turks did not, as might have been
expected, reply to the representations of the
Powers about the Geneva Convention by bringing
forward the ravages committed by Cossacks and
Bulgarians, of which they had got together a long
record, they chose an indirect way of reminding
the Powers of these occurrences, the Sultan having
through one of his Chamberlains sent to the
Missions the photographs of the Mahomedans
who had been killed and maimed, The Porte,
Times (London), 3 September 1877.
54 LIllustration 2940 (1 July 1899): 13, 16.

49 By comparison, postcards of decapitated thieves were

very common in China, for example.

55 This photograph was published in Pierre de Gigord,

Gilbert Beaug, Nazan ler, Franois Neuville, and
Engin izgen, Images dempire: Aux origines de la
photographie en Turquie, Trkiyede Fotorafn ncleri
(Istanbul: Institut dtudes Franaises dIstanbul,
1993), 176, with a wrong date (1897) and no reference
to the photographer. It was identified as Tarkoulians
work in Bahattin ztuncay, Hanedan ve Kamera:
Osmanl Sarayndan Portreler, mer M. Ko Koleksiyonu
(Istanbul: Aygaz, 2010), 108.

50 Georgeon, Abdulhamid II, 163.

56 rtika 1, no. 13, 29 Muharrem 1317 (9 June 1899).

51 See, for example, LAssiette au beurre turque: Le grand

saigneur 71 (10 August 1902), entirely devoted to a very
explicit depiction of the Armenian massacres.

57 Malumat 5, no. 187, 28 Muharrem 1317 (8 June 1899).

52 While insisting on the inefficiency of the system,

Paul Fesch recounts Abdlhamids efforts to set up
favorable newspapers in Europe and bribe the Western
press; he also gives a list of French journalists awarded
Ottoman decorations, Paul Fesch, Constantinople

59 BOA, ZB. 390/64, 29 August 1323 (11 September 1907).

48 G. F. Abbott, Brigands and Their Ways, Wide

World Magazine 7 (AprilSeptember 1901): 147,
html?start=0&lq=simotta&show=1, accessed 6 January

58 Servet-i Fnun 17, no. 430, 27 May 1315 (8 June 1899).

60 rtika 54, 24 March 1316 (6 April 1900); Malumat 231,

30 March 1316 (12 April 1900); Servet-i Fnun 474, 30
March 1316 (12 April 1900).

61 Servet-i Fnun 485, 15 June 1316 (28 June 1900); 486,

22 June 1316 (5 July 1900); 487, 29 June 1316 (12 July
1900); 488,6 July 1316 (19 July 1900); 489, 13 July 1316
(26 July 1900); 490, 20 July 1316 (2 August 1900); 491,
27 July 1316 (9 August 1900).

69 I have myself contributed to this tendency by

publishing a POW postcard from the end of World
War I (Eldem, Filatelinin hazin yz: I. Dnya Harbi
sonunda bir harp esiri kart, Toplumsal Tarih 26
(February 1996): 1213. More recently, Oktay zel has
published two textually fascinating postcards from
an agricultural school freshman in 1914 and from an
62 Servet-i Fnun 494, 19 August 1316 (1 September 1900).
Armenian family in 1912 (zel, Gzlerinden perim
. . . Mektebden en samim ifti selmlar, Kebike
63 Servet-i Fnun, 494, 19 August 1316 (1 September
32 (2011): 1530; Eer ki kbil ise bizleri katiyyen
1900), 418.
merak itmeyin! Kebike 33 (2012): 311321). For a
comprehensive collection of authored postcards,
64 Curiously, the children spell the text in reverse, from
see Nuri Akbayar, ed., Pek Sevgili Beybabacm. Yahya
their right to left, resulting in a photograph that spells
Kemalden Babasna Kartpostallar (Istanbul: Yap Kredi
the words backward in the Arabic script used at the
Yaynlar, 1998).
time for Turkish. This suggests that neither the school
nor the magazine expected viewers to be able to read
70 Ernest Giraud, Cartes postales illustres, Revue
the text.
commerciale du Levant: Bulletin de la Chambre de
commerce franaise de Constantinople 26, no. 301 (30
65 As published in Gavin, ed., Imperial Self-Portrait,
April 1912): 825828.
174, 240, 259. This photograph is found in Library
of Congress album 9544 and British Library album
71 Revue commerciale du Levant 26, no. 301.
47. The corresponding image in the Yldz albums is
72 On Ottoman Orientalism see Ussama Makdisi,
Ottoman Orientalism, American Historical Review
66 Circulation figures are in Fesch, Constantinople, 64.
107, no. 3 (June 2002): 768796; Edhem Eldem, The
Ottoman Empire and Orientalism: An Awkward
67 The best example of a publication of postcards as an
Relationship, in Franois Pouillon and Jean-Claude
editorial project is Mert Sandalc, The Postcards of Max
Vatin, eds., After Orientalism: Critical Perspectives on
Fruchtermann (Istanbul: Kobank, 2000).
Western Agency and Eastern Re-appropriations (Leiden:
Brill, 2014), 89102.
68 Just a few examples: Osman Kker, ed., 100 Yl nce
Trkiyede Ermeniler (Istanbul: Birzamanlar Yaynclk,
73 tablissement thermal de Coury les Bains [Yalova],
2005); Osman Kker, ed., Orlando Carlo Calumeno
postcard published by Max Fruchtermann, dated 17
Koleksiyonundan kartpostallar ve Vital Cuinetin
July 1315 (29 July 1899). EE.
istatistikleri ve anlatmlaryla bir zamanlar zmir
(Istanbul: Birzamanlar Yaynclk, 2009); Mehmet
Mazak, Kartpostallarda stanbul, Istanbul with Postcards 74 LIllustration 3417 (22 August 1908): 126.
(Istanbul: stanbul Bykehir Belediyesi Kltr
75 There is no precise way to quantify the production
A, [2008]); Fouad Debbas, Beirut, Our Memory: A
or consumption of these cards, but searches on
Guided Tour with Postcards from the Collection of Fouad
specialized sales websites give an idea of possible
Debbas (Beirut: Naufal Group, [1986]); Lale Gkman,
numbers. On in January 2015, for
Manastrn Ortasnda Var bir Havuz . . . Kartpostallarla
example, five postcards of Sultan Read were offered,
bir Osmanl ehrinin Hikyesi, A Pool Lies at the Heart
and twenty-seven of Enver.
of Monastir: Tale of an Ottoman City through Postcards
(Istanbul: Denizler Kitabevi, 2011); Kostas Kopsidas,
Hoi Hevraioi ts Thessaloniks: mesa apo tis kart-postal, 76 In this image Enver wears exactly the same outfit as in
a studio photograph by Boghos Tarkoulian, dated 12
18861917, Les Juifs de Thessalonique: travers les
February 1324 (25 February 1909); it seems likely that
cartes-postales, 18861917, The Jews of Thessaloniki
the postcard, originated from the same or a similar
through Postcards, 18861917 (Thessaloniki:
studio session; Bahattin ztuncay, Htra-i Uhuvvet:
K. Kopsidas, 1992); Murat Uurluer, Kartpostal
Portre Fotoraflarnn Cazibesi, 18461950 (Istanbul:
ve Fotokartlarla Gaziantep (Gaziantep: M.A.P.,
Aygaz, 2005), 210211.
2008); Fikret Ylmaz and Sabri Yetkin, eds., zmir
Kartpostallar 1900: Izmir in Postcards 1900 (Izmir:
zmir Bykehir Belediyesi Kltr Yayn, 2003).




The Selli children, Zizi, Gilberte,

Clothilde, Marie-Thrse, Robert and
Andre with their governess (?) Miss
Norinthong (?), leaving their residence at
Boyacky, 6 August 1905. Selli family
album, MKC.





Insistent scholarship on Abdlhamid as the
creator of an imperial self-portrait through
image-making based on photographic
albums1 has tended to overshadow the less
spectacular ways in which the sovereign
has tried to make use of photography. One
particularly significant oversight is the
album he sent to Queen Victoria in 1878, the
existence of which can be traced thanks to
a translation of the British sovereigns letter
of thanks.2 Further research reveals that
although said album could not be located at
the Royal Collection, the Royal Archives have
preserved enough of the correspondence
to allow for a reconstitution of the event,
including the albums probable contents.3
I have the honor of presenting Your Majesty
with a testimony of my feelings of sincere
and respectful friendship for Her with this
album containing the photographs of my
children and of those of other members of
my dynasty.4 The Sultan also mentioned his
intention of sending these boys to England
once they had acquired a preliminary
education, in order to receive proper military
training. From these details one can infer
that the album must have included the
portraits of seven young princes: Abdlazizs
sons Abdlmecid (10), Mehmed evket (6),
and Mehmed Seyfeddin (4); Burhaneddin
Efendis son brahim Tevfik (4); Read
Efendis son Mehmed Ziyaeddin (5); and
Abdlhamids own sons Mehmed Selim (8)
and Mehmed Abdlkadir (6 months).
The photographs of all but one of these
princes can be found with the imprint
of Basile Kargopoulo, who became court
photographer in March 1878.5 Evidently,
the newly appointed artists first task had
been to organize a photographic coverage
of the Sultans extended family.6 Among
these, Abdlhamid had picked a handful,
based on age and gender, to include in an

album dedicated to Queen Victoria, thus

playing the family card, while at the same
time committing to a politically flattering
educational plan. The Queens response
suggests that the Sultan had struck the right
chord. Calling him her good brother, she
complimented him on this charming gift,
noted that she would be pleased to assist
the princes upon their arrival in England,
and expressed her sympathy for his recent
trials, discreetly referring to the disastrous
Ottoman defeat at the hands of Russia.
Abdlhamids family album stands as
a reminder of the soft diplomacy that
characterized the early years of his reign,
soon to be replaced by the ambitious
propaganda of his autocracy.

Photographs (clockwise from top left) Princes Abdlmecid,

Mehmed evket, Mehmed Seyfeddin, Mehmed Abdlkadir (with
eker Ahmed Pasha), Mehmed Selim and brahim Tevfik.
1 On the famous Abdlhamid albums, see Gavin, ed., Imperial
2 BOA, Y. EE. 63/3, 19 September 1878.
3 Royal Archives, RA VIC/MAIN/H/24/47, Sultan Abdlhamids
letter and its French translation, 4 Ramazan 1295 /20 August
1294 (1 September 1878) and RA VIC/MAIN/H/24/61, copy of
Queen Victorias answer in French, 19 September 1878. This
material has been obtained and is mentioned here with permission
of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
4 The French translation has children where the original Turkish
text says sons.
5 The missing prince among this age group is Read Efendis son
Mehmed Ziyaeddin.
6 One can identify at least 15 such portraits, including 5
princesses and 4 older princes, followed by 32 portraits of
statesmen and dignitaries (ztuncay, Vasilaki Kargopulo, 140
153; 156187).





Nineteenth-century studio photography
is known for its frequent recourse to
backdrops, furniture, and accessories.
The four photographs selected here have
in common their use of one of the most
symbolic accessories, books.

volumes. The two titles were ostensibly

picked from the Shiite tradition: NahjulBelagha (Way of Eloquence), a tenth-century
collection of sermons and sayings attributed
to the Caliph Ali, and Divan-i Ali, a collection
of poems also attributed to him.

In the first photograph by Abdullah Frres,

Sultan Abdlazizs firstborn son Yusuf
zzeddin Efendi (18571916) is depicted in a
pose of nonchalant reverie, his elbow resting
on a small book placed on a heavily ornate
desk. The identical furniture and accessories
in a portrait of Midhat Pasha (p. 87) betray a
studio setting.

The last photograph differs from the rest

in many ways. The sitter is a young woman,
possibly non-Muslim. The studio is modest,
even a bit shabby, with a plain blind barely
hiding a rough wall, well-worn furniture,
ordinary rugs, and makeshift flowerpots.
Wearing her best dress and her hair carefully
groomed, the young woman holds a fan
in her right hand and gracefully uses her
left hand to flaunt her earring and rings.
On the table, three books are piled with a
small pocket watch placed on top. One can
recognize the largest volume: emseddin
Sami Frascherys Kamus- Trki, the most
widely used dictionary of the time. This may
be taken as an indication that the books were
part and parcel of the studio props and had
no real connection to the sitter.

In the second photograph, the elderly

ryanizade Ahmed Esad Efendi (18131889),
Sheikhulislam from 1878 to his death, is
shown sitting in a corner of his garden.
An armchair has been brought out for this
purpose and a wobbly garden table offers
support to his arm and to three large leatherbound volumes, with a bunch of cut roses
placed before them. While the books cannot
be identified, their shape and size reveal a
traditional probably religious content,
perhaps in manuscript form.
Found in the same envelope as the images
of Abidin the Snitch (p. 234), and despite the
absence of any indication, the third sitter
can safely be identified as Ali Suavi (1838
1878) during his exile in Paris (18691876).
His clerical costume, prayer beads, unruly
hair and beard, and thin-rimmed glasses
define the political activist and religious
reformer he was. The Parisian studio setting
is extremely austere, reduced to a wooden
stand upon which are placed three volumes.
Suavi seems to have camouflaged what were
probably French books by attaching two
sheets of paper bearing Arabic inscriptions
in emulation of the Ottoman and Islamic
tradition of writing titles on the side of


Photographs (clockwise from top left) Prince Yusuf zzeddin

Efendi, Abdullah Frres, ca 1865, MKC; Sheikhulislam ryanizade
Ahmed Esad Efendi, ca 1885, Cengiz Kahraman Collection;
anonymous young woman, EE; Ali Suavi, Photographie Csar,
Paris, ca 1870, BOA, Y. EE. 57/1.2.





The first systematic attempt to have convicts
photographed seems to date from April
1888, when instructions were issued to
ensure that individuals sentenced to death
or to hard labor for life be photographed
and that their crime be inscribed beneath
the image.1 Considering the costs of
photographing prison inmates were still
being discussed some five years later, it is
likely that the practice spread rather slowly
and was limited to a number of prisons.2
Among approximately 500 albums kept
at the Istanbul University Central Library,
only six are devoted entirely to convicts,
which suggests that the photographic
documentation never really spread to
the point of including the entire prison
population of the empire.3
The harvesting of images may not have been
systematic, but the result is fascinating and
intriguing. Despite possible inspiration from
the West, Ottoman convict photographs
were far from providing the kind of
anthropometric detail that characterized
proper Bertillonage.4 To start with, the
standard procedure of the double mug shot,
consisting of a facial and profile view of the
subject, does not seem to have played any
significant role. The images hence had little
to offer to the student of physiognomy and
anthropometry; in fact, these incomplete
mug shots were not even the standard
format for convicts, as many were depicted
in full length or three quarters, sitting or
standing. Such poses allowed Amet the
Lame to stare defiantly into the camera, and
brahim the Albanian, caught armed and
wounded by the army, to mimic prayer. As
to the theatrical pose of Spiro from Goritsa,
the absence of chains and shackles suggests
that this may have been a studio photograph
worthy of our folkloric sample (p. 215
taken before his arrest and conveniently
added to the album.5

The oft-repeated observation that the Sultan

decided on pardoning criminals by looking
at their photographs, already based on thin
evidence,6 has been used as proof that the
Sultan and his administration engaged
in a Western-inspired scientific form of
anthropometric recording. The nature of
the photographs at hand suggests that this
process may have been much more akin to
the tradition of physiognomy (ilm- kyafet) as
had been practiced by the Ottoman elite for

Photographs (clockwise from top left) Tanakaolu Kara mer,

Amet the Lame, Spiro son of Nicholas, and brahim the Albanian,
MK 91290-0005, 0108, 0122.
1 BOA, DH. MKT. 1499/70, 16 Receb 1305 / 8 April 1888. On
Ottoman prisons, see Kent F. Schull, Prisons in the Late Ottoman
Empire. Microcosms of Modernity (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University
Press, 2014), particularly 114-120 on photography.
2 BOA, DH. MKT. 2023/71, 2 Cemaziylevvel 1310 / 22 November
1892; MV 74/52, 26 aban 1310 / 15 March 1893; BEO 176/13162,
7 Ramazan 1310 / 25 March 1893.
3 The seven albums are numbered 91285, 91287, 91290, 91291,
91292 and 91293.
4 Alphonse Bertillon, Identification anthropomtrique:
Instructions signaltiques ([Paris]: Ministre de lintrieur,
1885) and La Photographie judiciaire, avec un appendice sur
la classification et lidentification anthropomtriques (Paris:
Gauthier-Villars et fils, 1890).
5 On the Balkan tradition of staged portraits of heroes, see
Baleva, Revolution in the Darkroom, 378388.
6 The argument was first brought forward by Engin izgen, but
within the context of an exceptional pardon on the occasion of his
Silver Jubilee, and with no documentary reference (Photography in
the Ottoman Empire, 23).






Can one write the history of arts and
sciences and, more generally, of culture
in the last decades of the Ottoman Empire
without referring to Osman Hamdi Bey?
This may well be impossible, judging from
the existing literature. Yet despite our
criticism of the powerful distortion exerted
by Hamdimania, we, too, have failed to
work our way around this iconic figure
and have had to refer several times to his
ubiquitous Costumes populaires.

found in a number of his paintings, such

as Inside the Green Mosque (1890), Clerics
outside the mosque (n.d.), and Cutting edge
of the scimitar (1908). His sons photograph
is reproduced in Young emir reading (1905).
As for his wife, although there is no known
canvas reproducing this particular stance, its
style fits well the genre of the interior/harem
scenes he produced in the 1880s.

Here is one more concession to this

phenomenon, but hopefully a justifiable one.
Hamdis take on modernity had a necessary
link to photography as a means of recording
and disseminating images. The Costumes
populaires album was simply one early
example of it, soon to be followed by other
major photographic ventures. His position
as director of the Imperial Museum was
particularly conducive to such enterprises. In
1882, a year after his appointment, he signed
a contract with Pascal Sbah to have the
entire museum collections photographed.1
The following year, he went on a survey of
the recently discovered tumulus of Antiochus
of Commagene, on Mount Nemrud, from
which he returned with a harvest of about a
hundred glass plate negatives.2
These three photographs are examples of
yet another aspect of Hamdis career that
benefited greatly from photography. As
a painter with a marked predilection for
Oriental/Orientalist scenes, he often resorted
to photography as a visual reference for
backgrounds as well as characters in his
works. The poses here are of himself as a
mendicant dervish, of his wife Marie as a
harem inmate, and of their son Edhem as
a young man reading. The penciled grid
on his own portrait is a reminder of the
quadrillage technique he used to copy the
image on a canvas. His own posture can be

Photographs (clockwise from top left) Osman Hamdi, Marie/Naile

Hamdi, and their son Edhem Hamdi, EE.
1 Edhem Eldem, Mendel-Sbah: Mze-i Hmayunu Belgelemek
Mendel-Sbah: Documenting the Imperial Museum (Istanbul:
stanbul Arkeoloji Mzeleri, 2014), 3036.
2 Osman Hamdy Bey and Osgan Effendi, Le tumulus de NemroudDagh. Voyage, description, inscriptions avec plans et photographies
(Constantinople: F. Loeffler, 1883). For a complete inventory
of Hamdis photographs during this trip, see, Edhem Eldem,
Le voyage Nemrud Da dOsman Hamdi Bey et Osgan Efendi
(Istanbul-Paris: IFEA-De Boccard, 2010).






Osman Hamdi and Marie de Launays
Costumes populaires (1873) was a modernist
and already nostalgic homage to the diversity
of races and creeds in the Ottoman Empire
as expressed through the wealth and variety
of popular costumes from the Balkans to
the Arab lands. Every plate thus staged
natives in their traditional garb with long
explanations as to the quality and cost of the
The album was designed to impress Western
audiences on the occasion of the 1873
Vienna Universal Exposition. However, the
phenomenon had a wider range of uses;
these four photographs have been selected
for their similar use of costumes from
the area of Albania and the Epirus, but in
astonishingly different contexts.
Plate XIX of the Costumes populaires
displayed three men from the province of
Ioannina: from left to right, a peasant and
two townsmen, one poor and the other
middle-class. They all wear similar garments
with differing degrees of fineness: a fez or
skullcap, a vest (yelek), a jacket (cepken), a
shirt (mintan), a skirt (fistan), gaiters (dizlik),
rawhide shoes (ark), and a wide felt cloak

sentenced to death for having engaged in

many murders by way of brigandage.
The man in the next photograph, standing
by a fake wrought iron railing in front of an
artistically designed backdrop of clouds, was
evidently better off than the two Albanian
convicts. Nevertheless, it would be a mistake
to imagine that he was an authentic
Albanian who had decided to wear his
best to have his portrait taken. His were a
different kind of shackles, as he worked for
the Cavalla branch of the Imperial Ottoman
Bank, whose administration made it a point
to dress its guards and underlings in fancy
livery and, whenever appropriate, in some
kind of national costume.
The last folkloric photograph is the most
playful of all, as it involves no obligation but
only fancy dressing. In fact, what makes the
image extraordinary is the identity of the
two men: Princes mer Hilmi (18861935,
seated) and Mehmed Ziyaeddin (18731938,
reclining), the sons of Sultan Mehmed V
Read. They accompanied their father during
his tour of Rumelia in June 1911, and this
photograph was taken in Monastir by local
photographers Yanaki and Milton Manakis.

The next photograph from the Abdlhamid

albums, depicting two men in somewhat
similar outfits, seems to have been taken in
a provincial studio. Indeed, the faded palm
tree motifs on the background screen and
the rustic touch of hay on the ground are
typical features of lower-end photographic
businesses. Yet the most striking difference
is not in the setting but in the presence of
an unexpected accessory: both men have
their ankles shackled to a heavy chain
disappearing under their worn cloaks. The
handwritten caption explains it all: Yani
Niko and Yorghi Yani Gogo from Leskovik,

Photographs (clockwise from top left) Hamdy and de Launay,

Costumes populaires, pl.XIX, MK, 91290-0096; Album of Sultan
Read's visit to Monastir (Bitola), June 1911, Manaki Brothers,
MKC; Imperial Ottoman Bank staff photographs (PHIN), SALT
Research, Ottoman Bank Archives.





The local scenes on Ottoman postcards
are known to have been staged for the
enjoyment of tourists seeking exotic thrills.
This is particularly true of the omnipresent
images depicting Turkish ladies in their
typical clothes. This particular postcard of
women in Turkish costume published
by Mose Israilovitch (MJC brand) is no
Yet there is something special about this
particular postcard: the names added above
each of the three women, which can be read
from right to left as Nehar, Lutfiye Ablam
(my big sister Lutfiye) and Ablam (my
big sister ).1 This identification of the three
women goes against all notions of staging
and fabrication. The postcards text may help
us understand better:

Evidently, it depicts a humorous way of using

this postcard as a mock portrait of three real
This playful use by local women of a
postcard designed for foreigners opens up
the complex and multilayered relationship
between image and text, publisher and
sender, intended and actual use and
illustrates how fiction and reality can end up

My dear and beloved sister from the palace,2

Let me first kiss you on both cheeks and
pray to the Lord that you should be in good
health. My dear sister, if you only knew how
sad I was that day when I went back home, I
just could not comfort my soul from having
parted with you for a few days. What could
I do, I ended up getting used to it, my dear
sister. If you miss the way you were at the
palace, my dear sister, here is something to
remind you of it. I was going to write much
more but there is no space left. Nehar.
I respectfully kiss my uncles wifes and
Grannys hands and kiss your bright eyes,
The text is written in the same hand as the
names on the image, and the signature
strangely echoes the name given to the
woman in the striped cloak on the right. The
postcard is clearly penned by this woman,
Nehar, and addressed to another one as
a reminder of her days at some palace.

"Women in Turkish costume," postcard published by Mose

Israilovitch, Constantinople (MJC), uncirculated, Cengiz
Kahraman Collection.
1 The third name is illegible.
2 Some colloquial expressions are practically impossible to
translate. From the palace stands for the adjective Sarayl, a
title given to women who worked in a palatial household. Sister
(abla) is a term of endearment used with a slightly older person,
regardless of any real family ties.






"Istanbul, 3 August 1902
The Golden Horn
My dear and esteemed Sir, I am grateful for
the kindness and appreciation you have
shown me following Salaheddins simple
request. The postcards you have been kind
enough to send me have arrived. They have
all immediately fetched a place of honor in
my collection. Of course, you should know
that every time I parade! my collection, I shall
remember you, and that contrary to what the
last philosophers of our age claim, I shall
prove that there are still in our times persons
of conscience and worthy of consideration.
Nevertheless, there are only a few postcards
I can send you by this mail. As they were
all known to me, these were the only ones
at hand. My objective is to make sure that
I send you views of Istanbul which are not
readily available on the market. Indeed, that
is the case with these two. One cannot even
find a photograph of the other one.

in the lower left corner, this was a specialty

of the Socit Lumire, in Lyons, owned by
the famous Lumire Brothers, Auguste and
Louis, and their father Antoine.
Rifat Osman (1874-1933) was not just
anyone. He was one of the prominent
radiologists of the time, but also an amateur
historian with a predilection for the history
of the city of Edirne.1 His modernity shows
in the general tone of the text, in his use of
a Gregorian date, and in his rather elegant
French script.
The postcard was addressed to one
Celaleddin Bey at the Ottoman consulate in
Singapore, possibly the consular secretary.2
It was mailed from the German post office on
August 3 and it transited through Alexandria
and Suez on August 12 and 13 before
reaching its fnal destination exactly one
month later, on September 3.

Doctor Rifat Osman"

This is a perfect illustration of the upper
end of postcard exchanges and collecting.
While the great majority of such images
circulated between total strangers with only
short expressions of civility, the sender of
the current postcard was clearly engaged in
a much more sophisticated process whereby
he commented on views he had carefully
picked for their interest and rarity.
The nature of the object adheres well to its
particular use. Technically speaking, the
object is not a postcard but a photo card
(carte photo). Contrary to postcards, which
were published in thousands or millions
of copies, photocards were personally
selected photographs, reproduced on
preprinted photographic paper to be used
like postcards. As attested by the small print

Photo card of the Golden Horn printed on Lumire paper, mailed

on 3 August 1902, EE.
1 Ahmet Gner Sayar, Rifat Osman, Trkiye Diyanet Vakf slam
Ansiklopedisi, vol. 35 (Istanbul: Trkiye Diyanet Vakf, 2008),






Among the Ottoman State Archives rich
holdings is an envelope containing 26
photographs.1 However, there seems to be
no logic bringing these images together.
In all likelihood, this was simply a random
collection of photographs found at Yldz
Palace in 1909, during the searches
conducted by the Young Turks following
Abdlhamids fall in late April.
Two of the photographs are particularly
intriguing. Numbered 9 and 10, they are
obviously connected, as one can easily
recognize the same characters on both
images. On number 9, three men in military
uniform are lined up, facing the camera,
standing to attention, and saluting with their
palms turned outward. The setting seems
to have been a garden, and one can make
out about half a dozen men, in traditional
(rural?) garb, sitting in very relaxed fashion
on top of a small mount behind the three

circumstances surrounding these two very

odd images.
The setting is most probably Yldz Palace,
Abdlhamids residence and working
quarters. The building may have been an
ancillary one: the stables, the shooting
range, or simply the service entrance to
one of the many kiosks that made up the
complex. Given that context, it seems
reasonable to assume that the three men
may have been in the Imperial Guard, or
perhaps in one of the Zouave regiments.
Their strange poses remain a mystery, as do
the reasons for the singling out of one of the
men as an informer. Nevertheless, it does
seem obvious that the shots were taken in
the tradition of a photographic inventory,
thus constituting a puzzling addition
to Abdlhamids famous photograph

Photograph number 10 most likely dates

from the same time. It features two of
the three soldiers on the previous image,
again standing in a rather stiff pose, but
now facing towards the left of the camera
and loosely pointing their revolvers in the
direction of some invisible target. The men
pose in front of a wooden staircase leading
to a galleried building. Their revolvers are
strangely attached by the grip to a leather
strip around their necks, a detail evident
on the previous image where they are safely
tucked in their holsters.
A small label glued to the cardboard mount
of the photographs identifies the man on
the right in both images, marked with a
(1): Muhbir Zenci Abidin or Black Abidin,
the Snitch. One of the most remarkable
features of these men is that they all appear
to be of African origin. But beyond this point
one can only speculate on the meaning and

Photographs BOA, Y. EE. 57/1, 9-10.

1 BOA, Y. EE. 57/1.





The frequency with which postcards were
targeted by informants, by censors, and
by the regime itself is a good indication
of how powerful and ubiquitous this new
iconographic medium had become by the
turn of the century. In fact, rather than
efficient and successful restrictions, these
measures need to be understood as a series
of desperate attempts at controlling the
uncontrollable. The existence of a regime
of exception the capitulations with
respect to postal services made it practically
impossible for the government to prevent
the circulation of postcards deemed
inappropriate. The matter was further
complicated by the fact that many of the
publishers of such items, as well as their
users, were foreign nationals, protected
by the same kind of extraterritoriality
and impunity. Occasional efforts by the
administration to obtain diplomatic support
for their photographic witch hunts were
undermined by the tendency of overzealous
censors to abuse such measures by widening
their scope beyond reasonable limits. In
1903, when the government informed them
of their intention to ban the circulation
through foreign post offices of postcards
bearing the sacred names of God and images
of the Kaaba, the legations replied that while
they agreed in principle, they had noted that
the Customs Administration had gone so far
as to ban images of fruit vendors and street
A few years later, in 1905, the government
was faced with yet another case involving
unwanted images disseminated through
postcards. Luckily, as the administrative
file preserved copies of the incriminated
postcards, we know exactly what these
looked like. Two of them used the same
(and rather kitsch) motif of a windblown sail
decorated with a colored photograph, one of
which showed two veiled women chatting at

a window, and the other a kneeling Muslim

priest reading from a book, presumably
the Koran. The third postcard was of a very
different and rather strange composition,
depicting the front page of an Armenian
newspaper, the center of which was torn
to allow a peek into the interior of Hagia
Sophia. The administrative correspondence
explained that these three cards were printed
and sold by the Zellich printing house in
Galata, and that since the owner was a
foreign national, it seemed impossible to
prevent their production and circulation by
any means other than the intercession of the
relevant embassy. The crime imputed to the
publisher was, as usual, the dissemination
of the image of Muslim women and of
the interior of mosques.z Interestingly,
no mention was made of the (rather
incongruous) association of Hagia Sophia
with the Armenian daily Arevelk (East).

Postcards BOA, DH. MKT. 983/4, 17 June 1905.

1 BOA, BEO 1649/123625, 28 Zilhicce 1318 / 5 April 1317 / 18
April 1903.
2 BOA, DH. MKT. 983/4, 4 June 1321 / 17 June 1905.





Unity in diversity la varit dans lunit
was a motto used by Osman Hamdi and
Marie de Launay to qualify the great variety
of costume displayed in their famous
album.1 Borrowed from Leibnizs description
of the perfection of Nature, this popular
saying was often used to describe the virtues
and strength of bringing difference together
to form a harmonious whole.
The motto could have applied perfectly to
the Imperial Ottoman Bank, which was
indeed one of the strongest yet also most
diverse institutions in the empire. Hybrid
from the perspective of its mixed capital
and allegiances, this venerable bank had a
particularly diverse profile with respect to its
staff, traversed by national, ethnic, religious,
cultural, and social cleavages.
The value the bank attached to photographic
portraiture as a means of identification of its
employees resulted in an amazing sample
of full-length photographs of some 6,000
individuals recruited between the 1890s and
1920s. Browsing through these portraits,
one discovers to what extent body language
and status could be correlated, as suggested
by the difference between underlings
stiffly standing to attention (3), even when
photographed with some decorum (6), while
executives made it a point to mimic relaxed
and sophisticated poses (9).
As employees posted in a same town
generally had their picture taken at the same
studio, repetitions of backdrops and props
could strangely bring further emphasis to
sartorial and other differences. A kavass in
fancy folkloric garb and a clerk in the classic
hand-in-waistcoat pose2 could share an
identical rustic backdrop in a Beirut studio
(1, 2); yet in Damascus, the photographer
seems to have wished to add emphasis to
the difference between a modest underling

and his superior by gracing the latters

hand-in portrait with a plaster statuette
(4, 5). Some studios were particularly
dominant in their treatment of the sitter;
when Boghos Tarkoulians Studio Phbus
carried out a photographic campaign for the
Stamboul branch of the bank, it leveled all
the employees by apparently forcing them
to adopt the same pose, standing stiffly in a
dark suit with a bowler hat in hand (7, 8).
Such large and internally consistent samples
are a unique source of information on
the most mundane aspects of portrait
photography. By cross-tabulating objective
indications such as the identity of the sitter
and of the studio with subjective criteria
such as pose and costume, one is likely
to find rules of practice and patterns of
behavior that remain invisible or speculative
in individual photographs.


Photographs Imperial Ottoman Bank staff photographs (PHIN), SALT

Research, Ottoman Bank Archives.
1 BOA, Y. EE. 57/1. Hamdy and de Launay, Costumes populaires, 6.
2 Arline Meyer, Re-Dressing Classical Statuary: The EighteenthCentury Hand-in-Waistcoat Portrait, Art Bulletin, 77/1 (March
1995): 4563.

Front Cover
The New Galata Bridge,
Sbah & Joaillier, 25 May 1912,
mer M. Ko Collection.

From its birth in 1839, photography has participated in modernity as

much as it has symbolized it. Its capacity to record and display, and
its claim to accuracy and truth intricately linked the new technology
to the dynamism of the modern world. The Ottoman Empire embraced
photography with great enthusiasm. The impact and meaning of
photography were further reinforced by the thrust of modernization and
Westernization of the Tanzimat movement. By the turn of the century,
photography in the Ottoman lands had become a standard feature of
everyday life, public media, and the state apparatus.

The visual world we live in today was born some 150 years ago. Camera
Ottomana is both a homage to, and a critical assessment of, the local
dimension of one of the most potent and transformative technological
inventions of the recent past.

Photography and Modernity

in the Ottoman Empire
Photography and Modernity
in the Ottoman Empire

This exhibition explores some of the most striking aspects of the close
connection between photography and modernity in the specificity of the
Ottoman Empire. Much of the material concerns the display of modernity
through photography, as was so often the case in the photographs
and albums commissioned by the sultans to showcase the empire for
Western audiences. Nevertheless, modernity was often embedded in the
photographic act, transforming it into a common and mundane practice.
Be it in the form of images disseminated through the illustrated press,
postcards sent out to family members or anonymous collectors, portraits
presented to friends and acquaintances, or pictures taken of employees
and convicts, photography had started to invade practically every sphere
of public and private life.

75 TL

Edited by
Zeynep elik
Edhem Eldem

Texts by
Zeynep elik, Edhem Eldem, Bahattin ztuncay,
Frances Terpak & Peter Louis Bonfitto